New film series ‘a beautiful testimony’ to NWT performing arts
A new film project is highlighting the talents and stories of more than 20 artists across the Northwest Territories.
When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit in March 2020, shutting down live performances, the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre wanted to find a way to continue supporting artists.
Inspired by a video of an Icelandic dancer performing on the land, Marie Coderre, executive and artistic director of the centre, said they decided to team up with Western Arctic Moving Pictures on a video project. The result was a series of five films – one from each region of the territory – dubbed the Trapper Radio Series.
“We were trying to find ways to keep the performing arts alive,” Coderre explained.
“It was a very community-minded project. It’s a beautiful testimony of the arts scene here when it comes to performing arts.”
Jeremy Emerson, executive director of Western Arctic Moving Pictures, added the project also helped support filmmakers and editors.
“The partnership worked out well because we both were able to do something when we were in lockdown.”
The series was highly collaborative, Coderre said, and includes a wide range of performances from “spoken word to heavy metal and everything in between.”
Artists also shared intimate conversations with one another about their art, the North, and living through the pandemic. The films depict them connecting across the NWT via bush radio.
The idea came from Dene singer and songwriter Leela Gilday, who said it is a “strong symbol of connectivity in the North.”
“People have been using bush radio to communicate from their hunting camps or fish camps or even just around town for a long time,” she said. “That’s a really unique northern way of communicating that I thought was really special.”
In the film focused on the Sahtu region, Gilday shares a conversation with her brother, musician Jay Gilday. She also performs her song Space on the banks of the Sahtu Deh or Great Bear River in Délınę where her grandfather, Joe Kenny, used to spend time on the land hunting and fishing.
“That’s part of what I think makes us special is the places and the people that we come from in the North,” she said.
Gilday said the song, which was released on her latest album North Star Calling, features the voice of late Elder Adeline Vital singing a Dene love song. Gilday has been working on writing her own love songs for her next album.
“It’s a really powerful form of Dene music.”
Dylan Jones, a hip-hop artist from Fort Good Hope who performs as Crook the Kid, is also in the film.
Along with creating a music video for the project, Jones said he had an introspective conversation with Gilday about mental health, music, inspiration and Covid-19.
Jones said he found out about the initial Covid-19 lockdown via the radio while at a caribou hunting camp outside of Łutsël K’é. At the time, he had just finished school and was planning to travel to Poland for his first European festival.
“We’re not really a social media driven type of artist up here,” he said. “My and most other artists’ careers are built on performing … We depend heavily on the ability to travel.”
Jones said the Trapper Radio Series highlights the importance of maintaining connections, especially during the pandemic.
“It’s good to check up on each other. It’s important to see how your friends are doing in their life,” he said.
Further south in the North Slave region, a group of artists made a stop motion animation film that takes viewers back through time to Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967. In the Northwest Territories, the attractions travelled to communities by barge.
Yellowknife musician and storyteller Pat Braden said the centennial barge had a ferris wheel, exhibits and a group of performing musicians on board. The film features stories from some of those musicians, and northerners with memories of the barge.
“It’s a really playful chronology of that trip that happened,” he said.
“This one was a bit more of a retrospective on a period of time that was actually really quite important in the development of music in the North that I’ve sort-of been a product of and many others over those 40 years.”
Among the artists that played on the barge was the Tundra Folk, a trio made up of Ted and Leslie Wesley – who helped start Folk on the Rocks in 1980 – along with Andy Steen. Braden said Ted, who passed away in December, was “larger than life” and the film is a “wonderful tribute” to him.
“It gives an opportunity online to be able to celebrate our own musicians,” he said of the series. “It’s always a really good thing when we can recognize and celebrate our own music, musicians and artists.”
Other artists featured in the films include Leanne and Louie Goose, Wade Vaneltsi, Rebecca Nowdlak, Wesley Hardisty, and the band State of the Art, among many others.