Fort Simpson’s Jiah Dzentu is headed to British Columbia to work on a new Netflix project alongside Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds.
Dzentu is one of 20 Black and Indigenous people from across the country selected by the Group Effort Initiative – founded by Reynolds – to join the project’s crew as a production trainee.
The trainees will work on various aspects of producing an as-yet untitled movie about time travel featuring Reynolds.
Reynolds is funding the initiative and financing participants’ wages, transportation, and accommodation. He created the initiative to address the under-representation of Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities in film.
Dzentu’s reaction to being chosen? “Screaming and crying.”
The 23-year-old told Cabin Radio: “It doesn’t feel real yet. It’s going to be the big leagues – Hollywood, Netflix. That’s the top tier of filmmaking that I could possibly get involved in, and I’ll be right in the action.”
Dzentu is a Denesuline and Dehcho Dene activist who became involved in filmmaking last year, taking part in a two-week storytelling workshop for Indigenous youth in Toronto called Create to Learn.
Since then, Dzentu has produced a documentary interview project about the Dehcho’s Edéhzhíe Protected Area and Horn Plateau with the Dehcho First Nations, and run film workshops for high-schoolers in Fort Simpson.
Filmmaking, said Dzentu, provides Indigenous artists with the opportunity to challenge and confront stereotypes while telling stories on their own terms.
“It’s one more avenue to promote the North and promote my own culture, Dene culture. The rest of Canada and the rest of world has no idea what it’s really like up here.
“You hear people say Indigenous or Native, and you think of a rez in New Mexico where there’s more depictions of reservations and Native life and communities.”
With filmmaking, Dzentu said, “you get to see people’s faces, you get to see where they’re living, you get to see their everyday, and you can just be really creative with it. There’s so many different ways to tell the story.”
‘Get down there so I can get back up here’
When asked why they decided to apply for the Group Effort Initiative, Dzentu answered with a laugh: “Because I hated school so much.”
“I was in the Indigenous Governance program at Yukon University,” they explained. “I thought I would love it, but I just really didn’t like it. I saw this and I’m like, ‘Oh, that would be wild. That would be an acceptable reason to drop out of university if I got that.’”
Needless to say, Dzentu has since dropped out of university to pursue the opportunity. The trip to BC begins on Friday and Dzentu expects to shadow the movie’s director for the next five months of production.
They hope to seize the networking opportunities – both with film executives and the other production trainees – and shine a light on northern filmmaking.
“Being a kid from Fort Simpson and living in the North, there are opportunities to get involved – but to get the big job and get big opportunities, you have to live down south and you have to commit to living down south,” Dzentu said. “And I never really wanted to do that.
“So, for me, this is a massive, massive opportunity to get down there so I can get back up here with a career.”
Dzentu’s dream is to one day write and film a drama-thriller web series in Fort Simpson.
While working on a project with Ryan Reynolds sweetens the deal, Dzentu admitted being less than familiar with his catalogue of film work – while conceding he is “very good-looking.”
“He’s funding these positions out of his salary,” Dzentu said. “That puts him in my good books.”