Mangilaluk School teachers are buzzing about a recent visit from Dennis Allen, an Inuvik director and filmmaker.
Mangilaluk School students Courtney Keevik, middle, and Chnaisse Kuptana interview elder Persis Gruben in her home in Tuktoyaktuk for a film project. - contributed photo
Allen made the trip with Drew Ann Wake, a former CBC reporter known in the territory as the woman who traveled with Thomas Berger during the Berger Inquiry. She is also the brain behind the multimedia exhibit Thunder in our Voices, which was on display this past winter in Yellowknife. The exhibit is made up of original sound recordings and photos from the inquiry.
Now, the pair is traveling to various communities in the Beaufort Delta to teach students filmmaking techniques showing them how to recreate stories.
"In Tuk we re-enacted a story told by an elder about being chased by polar bears," said Allen. "And we also re-enacted a story about elders stuck on Banks Island for two years and all they existed on was owls. They trapped Arctic Owls and drank hot water and one day a can of coffee floated up and so that was the story."
Allen and Wake are also getting older students to interview elders and the children of people featured on audiotapes recorded by Wake during the Berger Inquiry 40 years ago.
"It creates a kind of chain of memories," she said.
Courtney Keevik, a Grade 10 at Mangilaluk school, said she had little knowledge of video cameras but with Allen's instruction she's become comfortable with the equipment.
Keevik and the other Grade 10 to 12 students also learned how to conduct an interview.
After a few practice sessions, the youth spoke to elder Persis Gruben.
"It was pretty interesting. (Gruben) remembered a lot from the past and she told us great stories . we asked her about the time when she got stuck with her schooner in Sachs Harbour, we asked her about what she thinks of life today, what she could change if she wanted to, we asked her how she met her husband, we asked her where she was born and whatever," said Keevik.
"She told us that she's noticed a big change . she said lots of white people are coming in to work on the road."
Gruben also recounted traveling by schooner, a popular means of transportation for trapping families in the 20s and 30s, in her younger years.
"One of the places that her dad (Lennie Inglangasuk) stopped was a camp with one tent and he said, 'I choose to live here'. And Persis says, 'Why? There's only one cabin.' And he said, 'I like to help people because they have no schooner, no boat, no hunting or anything'. So he stayed there and became friends with them and helped them with food and brought them around in the schooner," said Keevik.
Mangilaluk principal Agnes Cudmore said the youth were very engaged with the stories Wake shared and the filmmaking workshops put on by Allen.
"He had a really positive relationship with the kids. I think they were very impressed that he was from Inuvik and knew a lot of families," she said, adding it was good for them to see a Northerner who's done well in the film industry.
Allen's visit inspired teachers at the school to look into running a photography and filmmaking program where students can earn Career and Technology Studies (CTS) credits. The hope is Allen will be able to contribute in some capacity.
"(The teachers) actually asked for his card so they could keep in touch with him. So we're still investigating that to see if there's funding available to bring that into play for part of next year," said Cudmore.
Allen and Wake also paid a visit to Angik School in Paulatuk last week.
Wake has tapes of Edward Ruben, a well-known elder who moved to Paulatuk in 1925 before most of the community had been settled, speaking at the Berger inquiry so they had students recreate some of his stories.
"In (Ruben's) speech he talks about the virtues that the land teaches you. It teaches you patience and humility and co-operation," said Allen. "And he told stories about walking on the land, walking to get to hunting and fishing locations. He talks about life on the land."
Grade 10 student Lisa Illasiak said this was the first film project she's done in school and she learned a lot about filming, lighting and film technology.
"It's pretty cool doing something new in the school, especially with limited opportunities in such a small town. So I'm enjoying it."
Some of the students' work will be incorporated in the Thunder in our Voices exhibit and all of it will be shared with the schools, according to Wake.