“Don’t get too close to your subject.”
That’s the first piece of advice that master documentary filmmakers like D.A. Pennebaker will give to those just starting out. It’s good advice, because it helps a filmmaker to remain objective about their story, which results in a better final product.
When it came to my Ipperwash documentary, that piece of advice went straight out the window.
It’s hard to exist around the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation without letting your guard down. You just can’t put on airs around Anishinaabe people – they see through it pretty quickly.
I started following Maynard “Sam” George (brother of Anthony “Dudley” George) around Kettle Point in the spring of 2003, and continued filming with him for the next six years. By the time the Ipperwash Inquiry wrapped up in 2007, the line between filmmaker and subject had been pretty much erased. By then, it felt like Sam and I were just two buddies, hanging out and comparing notes.
Now and then, I’d accompany Sam to meetings with the Ontario Provincial Police’s newly created ART (Aboriginal Relations Team) and act as a notetaker. Even after he’d been diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Sam continued to work with the OPP to make sure that the 100 recommendations that came out of the Ipperwash Inquiry would be fulfilled. He didn’t want anything like what happened to his brother to happen to anybody else.
In early June 2009, Sam became sicker than I’d ever seen anyone in my life. On the night he died I stayed at his house until about an hour before he passed away, only leaving for home because it was late at night and I wasn’t family, and nobody knew how long he could hold on. I wasn’t filming, even though – as a filmmaker – I should have been. By that point, it felt wrong to me to intrude with a camera. By then, I didn’t even care about my film anymore.
In retrospect, I grew pretty close to my subject. Too close. I couldn’t see the “story” anymore, because it had become real life.
My footage sat on the shelf for several years after Sam passed away. I couldn’t watch it. It was only after his wife started asking what I was going to do with the six years worth of footage that I started to peek at it, little by little. It was such a strange feeling to go back to it, knowing I couldn’t ask Sam what he thought about me finishing the project without him.
I was still emotionally wrung out when the Idle No More movement hit in December 2012, but to my surprise, something about it was bringing a tear to my eye. At each of the blockades and rallies I was attending, the OPP were there. But the officers weren’t behaving in the same way as I’d seen at protests like Caledonia (2006) or Tyendinaga (2008). This time, they had flipped the script, and were doing just the opposite – they were dressed down, low key, and were walking among the protesters. They appeared to be putting an emphasis on the safety of everyone – regardless of skin colour.
In my heart, I knew that Sam would be so happy to see how the OPP were handling the protests. I wish so much he was still alive to see it. So, I decided to make a short film about it so that others could appreciate it, too.
I threw this short together in about three hours and had it up on Facebook the same day that I shot the footage. My camera was so old that it was dying on me, but I was able to get enough footage to stitch together a story.
I almost see this as being the ending of my feature documentary on Sam’s journey, which I still hope to finish.
Client: Monica Virtue Productions (Independent)