A less-than-perfect picture

Winnipeg's Aboriginal Film Institute fails to gain steam despite star power

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Winnipeg is celebrating the aboriginal film festival this weekend, but, alas, all is not well with the Three Aboriginal Amigos.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2016 (2141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg is celebrating the aboriginal film festival this weekend, but, alas, all is not well with the Three Aboriginal Amigos.

That’s not a movie, although the story has enough elements to make for one.

The Three Aboriginal Amigos is the nickname I bestowed upon movie actor Adam Beach and his film industry business partners and pals, Jim Compton and Jeremy Torrie.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Jeremy Torrie (from left), Adam Beach and Jim Compton. Their goal of sparking a filmmaking enterprise is struggling.

That was a couple of years ago or so, during happier, more hopeful times for the trio, which has since become a business duo. Beach and Compton are still close. Torrie was ousted last spring, if not earlier, and while he continues to mentor young indigenous producers and write film scripts to feed his family of four children, he does that on his own.

“It just faded away,” is the way Torrie described the relationship with Compton and Beach, although obviously there was more to it than that.

Whatever happened between them isn’t really the important part of the story of three Winnipeg guys who defied incalculable odds and ended up making films, including the 2003 television movie that was based on my book, Cowboys and Indians: The shooting of J. J. Harper. They all played pivotal parts in getting that one licensed by the CBC and APTN.

Still, as much as I wanted to believe in them and an enterprise they said was aimed at helping nurture the next generation of indigenous filmmakers, I had expressed doubt about a lofty business model that included turning Winnipeg into the country’s major indigenous film production training and production centre.

The “new native Disney,” as Beach boasted nearly three years ago when he announced his partner pals were creating the Adam Beach Film Institute. The heart of their vision was an accredited entry-level film school for indigenous students, plus studios that produced movies and TV shows.

The productions were supposed to provide work for the graduates.

The film institute was bolstered by Beach’s name, his story and star power. It was to be headquartered in a century-old movie theatre at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Sherbrook Street, near gang territory where Beach first found his rabbit hole doing theatrical productions at Gordon Bell High School.

As promised, the business partners and pals and the future owners of the attached café purchased the building from the late reverend Harry Lehotsky’s New Life Ministries for $400,000. The concept included the café — Feast Café Bistro — that features indigenous-centred cuisine. It’s been a hit. Not so for the bigger, bolder business models that formed part of the renamed Bandwidth Theatre. The plan included showing movies and playing host to concerts and, most notably, creating the home of the Beach film institute.

“Everybody’s waiting for us,” Beach said back then, referring to the area residents. “Because they feel we’re going to revive something here.”

To some, it even looked that way two years ago this month when, with Hollywood-style hype and much hope, it was being hailed as the new permanent home of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. The fact that hasn’t happened suggests why the red carpet has been rolled up at the theatre and, in a sense, why the three-member partnership ended.

“I had two years of operating the theatre with no one coming to the theatre and absorbing tens of thousands of dollars of losses,” Torrie said Wednesday on the eve of the festival opening he isn’t planning to attend.

The film institute that carries Beach’s name no longer operates out of the building. TThe theatre recently was rebranded as The Dramatic Arts Centre and leased by business partners Justin Danyluk and Tony Porteous as the home of Dramatic Theatre.

As for the rooms on the second floor, where walls were removed to make room for classes, Compton told me they’ve been rented out to pay the mortgage. The classes — when Compton as the school’s artistic director can source enough funding or enough students with the $2,200 tuition — were relocated to the fourth floor of a building across from the Free Press News Café on McDermot Avenue.

There have only been two 10-week-long classes since the first one in March 2014. A total of 27 students have graduated. It was a struggle to manage those numbers, and it continues to be. The institute had to postpone a term in October and again this month because of a lack of enrolment. The next Red River College-accredited class is scheduled for March — if they find enough money and enough students.

On the plus side, the institute has managed to attract small amounts of funding from Telefilm for short films budgeted under $250,000 and done by entry-level indigenous directors. But, from what Compton said, none of his students was involved in those productions. The only film they’ve worked on was in class. And the sound still needs work.

So does the film institute that carries a name that was supposed to carry the project — but hasn’t.

That’s not really Compton’s fault.

The plan always read more like a movie script than the beginning of a story that could come true.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:08 AM CST: Adds photo

Updated on Thursday, November 24, 2016 2:02 PM CST: Corrects current use of theatre space.

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