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This article was published 30/6/2018 (566 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two young filmmakers from Winnipeg’s North End are getting a boost to their feature filmmaking ambitions, each with an assist from Telefilm worth $125,000.
Jordan Molaro, 30, and Madison Thomas, 26, each won a berth in Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program, formerly known as the Micro-Budget Production Program, which will underwrite low-budget funding for 38 feature films and seven narrative web projects from across the country.
"Talent to Watch trains diverse individuals from a range of communities, the LGBT community, the First Nation/Métis and those storytellers that haven’t been given the same opportunities as the rest of Canada," says Molaro, an Anishinaabe filmmaker who has been educating First Nations kids for years under the auspices of his company Nu Media Education.
Molaro’s film, titled Billy, is a supernatural thriller "about a culturally detached man who is haunted by a Wendigo spirit."
"Everyone interprets what he’s experiencing as mental illness," Molaro says. "But there’s a lot more to his story, and in order to establish balance and to find out why he’s been haunted by this spirit — in the shape of a clown — he has to go to the one place he doesn’t want to go back to, and that’s his home rez.
"We’re going to be filming in Winnipeg and Fisher River Cree Nation, and we’ve already started to work with the community at a grassroots level," he says, referring to creative partners Kyle Nobess (writer-actor) and producer Jorge Requena Ramos.
Métis writer-director Madison Thomas’s feature is titled Ruthless Souls, produced by Darcy Waite.
"It follows an Ojibway artist from the North End. Her name is Jackie and the film begins a year after the tragic death of her partner Tony during gender-reassignment surgery," she says.
"On that year anniversary, her only two pillars of support, her two best friends — they all grew up in foster care — have been in a decade-long relationship and one of them decides to randomly end it over the phone.
"And the film follows these three as they try to reconcile their relationship and that’s kind of hard when the ghost of a past relationship is lingering, literally, in the case of Tony."
If it sounds like heavy going, Thomas — funny and effusive in conversation — promises the story will be leavened with humour.
"It comes from my experience as a mixed-race woman coming from the North End," she says. "So it comes from these challenges, but it also comes with strength and resiliency.
"There’s a lot of humour within that resiliency, within the Indigenous population, that ability to laugh at messed-up situations," she says. "It’s really gotten us through a lot of hard times in the community. There’s also some lovely, poignant moments.
"And seeing an interracial LGBT couple in a feature film is going to be quite fantastic," she says.
Thomas has directed one feature-length drama before — This Is Why We Fight — shot in 2013, and has been busy shooting short films since.
She also directed an episode of the APTN series Taken. Her story has "been percolating in my head" since she was 19, while Molaro’s film is comparatively new.
"We developed the concept for our film about three years ago," he says. "It started out a short film and we always had the intention for it to be a longer film.
"We always thought, ‘How great would it be to really tell our story of what’s happening with our people, and have a reason for the rest of Canada and beyond to find out more about us, and what’s happening to us, right now’?"
"There’s a lot of people telling our stories that aren’t First Nation, Métis or Inuit, and the people that really understand our stories is us," he says.
Thomas shares that sentiment.
"I’m looking at populations from our city that have never been onscreen before," she says, citing the character of Tony as an example. The role will be played by Winnipeg transgender artist Liam Zarillo.
That representation is more important than ever, says Molaro, whose father is European.
"My last name is Molaro. I could go back to Italy and experience my culture and my language and eat lasagna.
"But when it comes to my Indigenous heritage, we’re losing our language, we’re losing our culture, we’re losing what it means to be an Indigenous person and we’re just surviving," he says. "And that needs to change."
Asked how he reacted to the news his project had been approved, Molaro says, "I literally felt like Ovie (Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin) when he won the Stanley Cup.
"We had tears of joy," he says.
"This has been a dream of mine since I was eight years old. I’ve been working in film in one capacity or other, either behind the camera or in front of the camera, since I was 13 years old.
"And I finally felt I was mature enough to finally direct my first feature film."
Both Billy and Ruthless Souls will commence shooting this fall and must be completed by next year under the terms of the Telefilm funding.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.