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Audience shown film in progress
Documentary on Northern artists, Way Up Here, seeks to balance realities of hardship with hope for the future

Sarah Ladik
Northern News Services
Thursday, October 15, 2015

While the project isn't yet over, an audience in Inuvik got a taste of a film which tells the stories of Northern artists.

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Abe Drennen performs after the screening of Way Up North. One of the songs he sang was a part of the documentary and he said seeing the almost-finished product warmed his heart with memories. - Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

"This was our attempt to give it back to the community," said PJ Marcellino who, along with Hermon Farahi, created Way Up North: An Arctic Symphony.

"Most filmmakers wouldn't show this. This is too rough, too unfinished. The process will go on, but we didn't want to miss the opportunity to share it here."

The film follows the trajectory of the Listen Up project, a partnership between the Griffon Trio and the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife that brought students from across the NWT together to compose and perform a song last winter.

A group of professional musicians and composers travelled to communities including Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Hay River and Inuvik to begin the work. They then gathered the students in the capital for the final performance, the whole time being trailed by the film crew.

The children's experience is interspersed with that of artists like Tanya Tagaq, who has claimed national renown on the national stage.

Overall, the film as it stands is a message of hope, but Marcellino said it could have gone another way.

"We could have gone in a dark direction," he said. "The week we met Leanne Goose was the week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out and it was a rough time . This is part of the story, but it doesn't have to be the whole story."

He said the new generation shown in the documentary is the one that will change the narrative, but that there is still room to honour those who paved the way for them to do so.

For the people on the other side of the lens, the experience was an important one.

Abe Drennen teaches music at East Three School and took the students to Yellowknife to be a part of the final show. He also performed at the screening of the film Oct. 7 at the Mackenzie Hotel for a packed house. They had to put a sign on the door saying the room was at capacity, but still around 70 people in total crowded in.

"I just want to say my heart is really warm right now, remembering the experience," he said when the documentary ended. "It was a wonderful experience and it's amazing to see it on screen. I hope this film continues to inspire young people in their music and their art."

For others, the completion - or near-completion - of the film brought forward other sentiments.

Marie Coderre, the executive and creative director at NACC, said the whole process of getting Listen Up up and running was something of a leap of faith. She had just taken over the position and had inherited $100,000 in deficit, on top of having to plan a regular performance season.

There is a brief flash of Coderre in the film, tearing up backstage at the final performance.

"It was a really emotional night for me," she said. "I had gambled so much; finding money for all the regular programming, gathering all the resources for Listen Up, and then it was just this wonderful co-production we had made."

Both relieved and proud, Coderre said the project isn't one that is likely to get done often, especially with the economy struggling as it is in the territory. Still, she called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"We were very lucky," she said, adding that she looked forward to seeing the finished product. "It's a nice tribute having this movie done."

Marcellino said that deadline should come in the next few months, although the path to get there will likely be a very busy one.

"It feels great to share it, but it's not done," he said. "We finally feel like we've locked in the theme. You know what you're putting out is a good product, that it says what you want it to say."

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