Dene and Dënesųłiné artist Melaw Nakehk’o spent the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic at a camp with her family beside the river outside Fort Simpson.
She scraped moose hides with her children, cooked meals with her parents, and watched the ice break up as the seasons changed over five weeks.
“It was nice to get out of town, away from all of the crazy things that were happening in the news and online, and just really be close to the land,” she said.
“It was just to kind-of reset and really focus on being on the land, which is way better for my children than staying at home.”
Nakehk’o documented part of that experience in a short film, titled K’i Tah Amongst the Birch, now being featured in National Film Board of Canada project The Curve.
The project highlights the experiences of filmmakers across the country during the first few months of Covid-19.
“The film is a visual journal, kind-of a glimpse into what a day would be like,” Nakehk’o explained.
The title of the film is the same name Nakehk’o and her sons gave to their camp. She said her father taught them the term, which means “amongst the birch” in Dene Zhatie, during a language lesson.
“We were really fortunate. Up here in the North, we have access to our traditional territories and being able to make camp and not being isolated in a city,” she said.
“Our camp was right in this area where hundreds and hundreds of songbirds would fly through in the morning.
“It was a different perspective and a different way of looking at things.”
‘A slice of life’
Nakehk’o says this is her first time directing and filming.
“I think she’s captured that sense of what it means to be out on the land, in the birch, in commune with something that’s really, really important to Indigenous people,” said David Christensen, a National Film Board executive producer.
Christensen said the board started The Curve as public health restrictions meant film crews couldn’t get together to make documentaries.
“The mandate of the film board is to tell Canadian stories to Canadians,” he said. “My hope is that a broad range of audiences here will look at this and, in some way, see themselves in what is unfolding in each of these short films.”
The Curve will gradually release 40 short films from across Canada between now and October. They range from an animated film to a documentary shot from an apartment balcony in Winnipeg.
“They’re really, really enjoyable and they’re also just a slice of life about what Canadians have dealt with during the pandemic,” Christensen said.