Annual Dreamspeakers Film Festival set to begin in Edmonton

Wednesday, April 24th, 2024 2:50pm


Image Caption

Bree Island, owner of Mixed Creative, will co-host a panel discussion at the upcoming Dreamspeakers Festival.
By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Filmmaker panels, animation workshops and more than 40 films will be showcased at the Dreamspeakers International Indigenous Film Festival in Edmonton from April 26 to April 28.

This year the festival is again also offering many events on the Dreamspeakers digital platform from April 29 to May 6.

For more than 30 years, the festival has been held to celebrate Indigenous artists of film, video, radio and new media from around the world. Included this year are creators from the United States, South Africa, Croatia, Iran, Mexico, Chile, Japan and New Zealand.

This year screenings include Because She’s Adopted; Remembering the Children: The Red Deer Indian Industrial School;  Lii Michif Niiyanaan – We Are Métis; and Aitamaako ‘tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun.

In addition to the film screenings, festival coordinators have planned several panel discussions where field experts will discuss their crafts, how they got started in the industry, as well as provide insights into how others can follow in their footsteps.

“This year we decided that we’re going to do the panels online,” said Aretha Greatrix, program director for Dreamspeakers, adding last year’s panel about video game development was very successful.

Animation will be one of the hot topics for panelists this year. Greatrix explained there is a high demand for Indigenous animators within the film production industry.

Bree Island, owner of Mixed Creative, a member of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory, will be one of the panelists. Island will discuss her career as an animator and her unique experience of developing creative processes.

“I am the owner of Mixed Creative which is a visual arts studio,” Island said. “We specialize in a few different things, and we are really trying to streamline and make big moves into 3D animation. We’ve done a lot of work in visual effects, but the foundation of our work was originally digital illustration, motion graphics and a lot of other work like graphics for content creators.”

Last year, in celebration of Dreamspeakers 30th anniversary, Island animated the festival’s logo.

She said the Dreamspeakers’ logo has many different components incorporated into its design. “Deconstructing it so that it would unfold and tell that additional visual story,” allowed the festival’s history and meaning to be told.

“It’s really about working with what you have to tell that story and making as much of an impact within that period of time,” said Island, adding the length of these animations is usually around the eight second mark.

In addition to these types of short stories, her team has also been developing an Indigenous futurism/sci-fi animated series expected to be released next year.

“We’re not just focusing on doing CGI visual effects for other people and their projects, but really looking at how we can use that to tell our own stories. We’ve been exploring these different digital mediums, and a couple of things kind of like rose to the top for me. just as an Indigenous artist, that really made me kind of stop and think a little bit more about what I want to see within the industry in terms of Indigenous representation. Not even just on the screen, but behind the scenes as well, particularly in animation.”

She began a personal exploration into what kind of stories she wanted to be involved with, as well as her own cultural responsibility of not just telling stories but reclaiming them.

“I was trying to figure out what my role within that could look like,” she said.

Island has been working at developing her screen-writing skills and understanding what preparation needs to be done for TV series, limited series and future films.

“I’m very much a self-taught visual artist,” she explained. “That’s everything from (Woodlands-style) painting … all the way up to working on 3D modeling, character modeling, environmental design, and stuff like that. I kind of just threw myself into all of these different areas.”

During the panel discussion, she hopes to convey the message that passion for creativity in any form will open the door to possibilities.

“You can learn anything that you want. Everything is accessible online in some form or another. So, just jumping into things with the mindset of ‘You want to do it? You can do it’,” she added.

During the past several years as Island built up her career, she decided she didn’t want to be a “widget within the animation industry” to just be handed a project and asked to “make it look pretty.” Instead she wanted be involved in a project from beginning to end.

She wanted to connect with the projects she was working on. Island values the responsibility she has as an Indigenous visual storyteller to be accountable to her community.

This role extends to projects she is contracted to do for others as well.

When working with non-Indigenous companies or team members, Island facilitates discussions about what it’s like being an Indigenous creator in that environment. She also uses her position to teach others about the correct practices required when working with Indigenous stories and content.

“You know, additional representation within animations, Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous animators. It’s just that kind of next step, the next progressive step in what we’re seeing in the film industry already,” she said.

“I think now we need to kind of look around into the other areas within the industry and start filling those gaps so that we continue on that track of ‘Yes, we’re telling our stories. We’re not just in the front of it telling the stories. We’re involved in everything in the back end too.”

Island will co-host the panel event with Harley Knife of Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory on April 30 at 7 p.m. (MDT) with free access through the website.

Knife has more than a decade of experience as a 2D animator, working on projects including Max and Ruby and Pete the Cat. He is currently with Titmouse Vancouver.

“He comes from a much more traditional background. He went to school for it. He worked for a studio. He's got lots of studio and industry experience,” said Island, adding she hopes together they can inspire other artists to find their path. 

“I really just want to give those people who, those artists who are thinking about it, like ‘yeah, you can do it’.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.