Sadetło Scott and Heather Heinrichs, two Indigenous filmmakers from the Northwest Territories, have won $20,000 to create an original short film.
Scott and Heinrichs are the co-writers of nihtâkwikihew/She Gives Birth. Their script was chosen as the NWT selection for the 2021 Northern Shorts Program, run by Bell Media’s Harold Greenberg Fund and supported in part by the NWT Film Commission.
“There was definitely a period of time where we’re like, ‘Did this actually happen? Is this real?’” Scott said.
Scott, who is Tłı̨chǫ, is a lifelong Yellowknifer. Heinrichs, who is Métis, is currently moving from Hay River to the territorial capital.
The women each bring a mix of filmmaking and other professional experience to the project.
Scott went to school for filmmaking and media production and has worked on a number of film projects, including Dead North entries. She is currently studying Indigenous Governance at Yukon University in Whitehorse.
nihtâkwikihew/She Gives Birth is the first collaboration between the two.
As a reprieve from the crush of school assignments, Scott put out a call on social media to see if anyone wanted to collaborate on a creative side project.
She was connected with Heinrichs and the two enrolled in a virtual screenwriting workshop run by the Yellowknife International Film Festival and NWT Professional Media Association in November.
“When I did the callout in October, I already had an idea in my mind of what I was hoping to work on,” Scott said. “I was hoping to talk about Indigenous languages, and to talk about the difficulties of losing language.
“Thankfully, when Heather reached out, she already had this incredible story in her brain.”
Addressing racism in healthcare
The script follows a pregnant Métis woman preparing for the birth of her child.
When her plans to give birth at home are upended, she must leave her community and finds herself confronting racism within the healthcare system.
According to Heinrichs, the story is based on experiences she witnessed while working in an Indigenous community as a midwifery student.
“In remote communities… people are sent away about a month before they’re due to go wait in a big city or somewhere to have their baby,” she said.
“Sometimes it’d be young women who are maybe 20 years old, having their first baby, don’t really speak English, sent to a mainly English-speaking centre.
“We wanted to really show the juxtaposition of the warmth and power of our traditional cultures and traditional midwifery, as there’s a lot of strength in that, and juxtapose that against the racism that people experience in the healthcare system.”
With such big concepts to tackle in such a short time frame, Scott and Heinrichs said fleshing out the characters and their relationships took careful planning and discussion.
“There are a few different things that we decided to try to stay away from because we didn’t have time to unpack all of the things that come with certain relationship dynamics, or things like that,” Heinrichs explained.
“We really wanted to … avoid making the healthcare providers complete villains, because we want healthcare providers to be able to see themselves in the characters, and to be able to realize some of the things healthcare providers do that are problematic – to be able to really see why rather than try to vilify the system.”
With the $20,000 grant, Heinrichs and Scott are in full pre-production mode.
They’re finishing their script and looking to translate a portion into either Michif or Cree. Soon after, they’ll begin scouting locations and issuing casting calls.
“I think using film is a really great platform to discuss things that we may not be comfortable outright saying,” Scott said. “It’s a creative opportunity for us to show people what it looks like, and how it feels.”
Heinrichs added: “The powers-that-be need to do better for families, and showing this will hopefully help people understand that better.”