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Northern Manitoba well-represented in program to mentor female Indigenous filmmakers

Women in Views’s Five in Focus: Indigenous filmmaking mentorship program has a decidedly Northern Manitoba flavour to it, with two of the five participants selected and one mentor having roots in the region.
marylou mintram left and jj neepin right
Marylou Mintram, left, and jJ Neepin, right.

Women in Views’s Five in Focus: Indigenous filmmaking mentorship program has a decidedly Northern Manitoba flavour to it, with two of the five participants selected and one mentor having roots in the region. 

Two of the filmmakers chosen for the program are Marylou Mintram, a member of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) and Fox Lake Cree Nation member JJ Neepin, both of whom have spent parts of their lives in Thompson.

Mintram will be mentored by Tina Keeper, a member of Norway House Cree Nation, who was one of the stars of the CBC’s North of 60 and later went on to serve one term as the Member of Parliament for Manitoba’s Churchill riding from 2006 until 2008.

For Neepin, who grew up in Thompson before moving to Winnipeg to attend secondary school and then studying film at the University of Winnipeg, being chosen as one of the program’s participants is a chance to branch out from her extensive work in documentary filmmaking – she made a documentary called Bayline featuring her parents – and into the realm of fictional storytelling.

“I heard this program was really good at elevating female filmmakers to the next level,” Neepin said, with some past participants having lined up funding to get their projects made.

Neepin will dedicate her time in the 10-week virtual mentorship program to developing her script called Luminous.

Luminous is about a young Indigenous woman named Aura who has the supernatural gift to see and find missing people,” said Neepin. “When Aura’s childhood friend goes missing it’s now a race against the clock to see if she can find her.”

Mintram, who’s been living in Ottawa for three years now and started film school in Ontario in 2003 after her family relocated from NCN to the outskirts of Toronto when she was about 10, says the chance to work with Keeper is a dream come true.

”She is a trailblazer in this industry and to be partnered with her, who knows where I’m from, means a lot to me,” Mintram said.. “Tina is definitely going to help me because she knows the industry, she’s seasoned but she’s also from my territory. All those things make a really big difference.”

Prior to moving to Ottawa, Mintram spent time in Thompson helping to care for her mother after she was diagnosed with cancer. That experience, and the comfort she got from talking to her hairdresser about it, are part of the inspiration for her planned feature film, Making the Cut, about an Indigenous hairstylist.

“The first time she cried about being diagnosed is when her hair started to fall off,” Mintram recalls of her mother. “That’s the only time she cried. As i was thinking about what kind of film I want to make and how I want to make it about an Indigenous woman that has resilience, I thought of my mom obviously first but then I also thought of my hairdresser and the things that she shared with me.”

Mintram believes, Five in Focus: Indigenous is a great way to help an underrepresented group in the film industry prove that they have what it takes to make movies.

”When I went to film school … there weren’t may women even … in my classes, never mind Indigenous,” she says. “We have the talent in our communities. Having programs and incentives like these really helps to jumpstart that dream.”

To Neepin, who won the first-ever $10,000 Emerging Filmmaker Competition with her sister Justina at the Gimli Film Festival in 2012, developing her fictional filmmaking skills is exciting.

“As much as I love documentary I’m trying to break from that and into scripted work right now,” she says. “It’s a different kind of journey with each one. The thing with a documentary is you can’t always guarantee a happy ending.”

Five in Focus: Indigenous is the fourth edition of the Five in Focus program, which was launched in 2016. In its second year, Women in View put the spotlight on women from Atlantic Canada. The third year saw it focus on West Coast animation talent.

Women in View is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to gender parity, diversity and inclusion in Canadian media, both on-screen and in production.

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