Turn up the volume
New APTN series showcases Indigenous musicians' and filmmakers' creative processes
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/09/2020 (989 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A new TV series premièring on APTN this week aims to document the inspiration and personal process of Indigenous musicians from across Canada.
Amplify sheds light on the work of musicians — including local singer-songwriters Leonard Sumner and Jason Burnstick — over 13 22-minute episodes, all directed by Indigenous directors, including Winnipeggers JJ Neepin and Erica Marie Daniels.
“The show was conceived as a platform to showcase Indigenous stories and music,” says producer Shane Belcourt in a media release. “We called it Amplify because the series amplifies Indigenous music, Indigenous stories and Indigenous perceptions.”
Belcourt chose to focus on musicians because he believes music is the glue that holds people together.
“Musicians have a lot of passion and ideas and they’re very fluid in speaking about them,” he says. “While there is a sense of confusion or frustration in some of the episodes, through music, there is inevitably a hopeful outlook.”
For each episode, a musician and a director from similar regions and backgrounds were paired up and given a recipe of sorts: the musician was asked to find a source of Indigenous inspiration and write a song about it, while the director was asked to shoot a documentary about that inspiration and process, which culminates in a music video.
Filming for the series began in spring 2018 throughout locations in Ontario and Manitoba and episodes will be airing starting tonight in both English and Ojibwa.
JJ Neepin, a Cree writer and director based in Winnipeg, directs Episode 8, Broken Justice, which airs in English on Oct. 23 and in Ojibwa on Oct. 29.
The episode follows Anishinaabe musician Leonard Sumner as he creates a new song that digs into the systemic racism of the Canadian justice system, inspired by the outcomes of the Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie trials.
“It felt like such a huge blow,” says Neepin of the verdicts.
The two cases, which ended in acquittal just weeks a part, sparked outrage among Indigenous communities.
On Feb. 9, 2018, an all-white jury acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man.
Two weeks later, a Winnipeg jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty in the killing of 15-year-old Fontaine. The body of Fontaine, who was from Sagkeeng First Nation, was found in the Red River in August 2014. Her death renewed calls to end violence against Indigenous women and girls.
“We are still lacking justice,” Neepin says. “That hit Leonard hard. We kind of went from there.”
For Neepin, filming a music video wasn’t new: she grew up making them with her sister on their dad’s camera.
“But this was my first professional music video,” she says. “You need to have a super, super strong vision.”
Episode 9, Becoming a Man of the Earth, also features Winnipeg talent, as Cree/Ojibwa director Daniels follows Burnstick, a Cree songwriter, as he grapples with childhood trauma following the birth of his own son.
The episode also introduces Elder Dave Courchene from Sagkeeng First Nation, who helps Burnstick discover what work must be done to become the kind of father he wants to be — “a man of the Earth.”
“I love storytelling,” says Daniels, who mentors youth in video production at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. “I love telling Indigenous stories and being able to tell them from an Indigenous perspective. It’s really important for myself and for my community.”
Daniels was requested by Burnstick to direct his episode; the two had worked together at the neighbourhood centre.
“He really wanted to share a message about what’s happening with Mother Earth and what is happening to Mother Earth for the next generation and his concerns about what was going on in the world,” she says.
“Becoming a new father, he had a lot of fear and concerns with everything that was going on in the world. His song was very much that rite of passage into fatherhood, and the role of being a traditional man and an honourable man.”
The episode airs in English on Oct. 30 and in Ojibwa on Nov. 5.
While each episode of Amplify is directed by a different director and features a different musician, the anthology-style series is united by a shared ancestral history and a vision of hope for the future.
Amplify debuts tonight and airs every Friday until Nov. 27 in English, while Ojibwa episodes air on Thursdays. For more information visit aptn.ca.
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Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.