Slash/Back Shows How Indigenous Creators Get Things Done Despite ‘Unlimited Obstacles’


When director Nyla Innuksuk decided what her film Slash/back was going to be, she knew she was going to have to do some things differently. And in a way, making things happen was the whole point.

The film, which premiered Friday, follows a group of teenage and tween girls from Nunavut as they grapple with the struggles of growing up, reconcile their cultural identity with adolescent pressure to conform — and struggle to they alone an alien invasion.

“I grew up obsessed with horror movies,” Innuksuk said of why she chose to make a film about identity within the horror genre.

“I always dressed my cousins ​​as ghosts and sprayed them with blood. And it made sense for me to think of that kind of route when it came to making my first feature film.”

The result is a unique blend of contemporary science fiction and traditional Inuit myth, comedy and horror that Innuksuk created by borrowing from his own past growing up in Nunavut.

But to do Slash/back come out the way she envisioned, she had to change the way actors are cast, the way crews are housed, and prove to investors that a horror movie could work in the 24-hour arctic sun – demonstrating the efforts that Indigenous filmmakers will build capacity and get their stories told.

WATCH | Slash/back trailer:

“It was completely crazy”

Slash/back is shot entirely in the hamlet of Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island about 300 km from Iqaluit, with no roads in or out — the first feature film to be shot there.

To attract investors, Innuksuk first started with a virtual reality proof-of-concept short film, showcasing the horror in this landscape, with the normal everyday realities of Inuit teenagers talking about boys, scrolling Instagram and dreaming of a summer vacation in Winnipeg.

Since there were no casting agents in the territory, Innuksuk instead held a series of acting workshops to simultaneously teach about 20 girls – the majority of whom had never acted before – the ins and outs of craft outs, figure out which girls match which part, and hone those parts to truly match the habits and personalities of Nunavut’s Gen Z.

And on top of all that, the production shipped nearly 60 beds and mattresses to two schools in the community, and the entire crew stayed on during the entire shoot. Innuksuk says they chose to do this because with the housing crisis in Nunavut, it would be impossible for them to showcase and defend Pangnirtung without ultimately harming residents by doing otherwise.

“It was totally crazy – a crazy way to make a movie. But it’s nice, the only way it would have been possible is to have this space and everyone in the community to help us and us help to do that.”

Despite the efforts she had to make, Innuksuk is far from the only filmmaker to approach filmmaking with this level of access and support in mind. For years, Indigenous filmmakers have reduced filmmaking to behind-the-scenes work to support Indigenous creators and communities historically excluded from the industry.

And now that work is starting to show real results, Innuksuk said.

Director Nyla Innuksuk on the set of Slash/Back, filmed in the hamlet of Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island about 300 km from Iqaluit. Innuksuk set up theater workshops to help him launch his film. (Ksenia Stassiuk)

Training works, says director

Movies like Danis Goulet night raidersat Tracey Deer Beans and Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’s The body remembers when the world opened up by Indigenous filmmakers and featuring Indigenous actors have, in recent years, burst onto the scene as some of the best productions to come out of the country. (Hepburn is non-native, although co-director and Tailfeathers star is Blackfoot and Sámi)

At the same time, like Innuksuk’s, these films were often produced with a number of built-in programs to support the next generation of talent and increase the confidence and access of other Aboriginal creators.

In the case of both night raiders and The body remembers when the world opened up, which materialized in the form of mentorship programs to help give young Indigenous filmmakers a pathway into the industry. For Beanswhich is drawn from Deer’s own traumatic experiences during the 1990 Oka Crisis, Deer had an acting coach behind the scenes to help the film’s child stars learn to engage with the emotionally charged aspects of the script.

Many of these kids had never acted before, and Deer explained in an interview at the time with press briefing culture and news Cult MTL that she also had to go through an acting workshop instead of going through the normal casting process because “there aren’t a ton of native kids in this mainstream system who have already been discovered”.

Writer, director and actor Jennifer Podemski explained that this type of resource creation is one of the reasons we see the wave of Indigenous-led productions we have now.

Its first production was also the first Indigenous drama series in North America – and came about entirely through a training initiative for young Indigenous artists. In 2002, Podemski and Laura J. Milliken brought a script and film crew to Regina and worked with 40 Indigenous youth to produce what would become the 2003 film. Flat moccasins TV series, which ran for three seasons.

“I know, and I’ve seen — and anyone who remembers or has been on this project knows — that training works and training builds capacity,” Podemski said.

“It may not be for everyone, but we need our own communities to engage with us as content creators to help build that capacity and also introduce those careers in the film industry to young people. .”

Two decades later, Podemski is now working on a new show, Little birdabout an Indigenous woman searching for her biological family after being removed from it during the Sixties Scoop. This production, like so many others, also includes a training program for emerging and intermediate Indigenous filmmakers. .

Jennifer Podemski says she is passionate about giving Indigenous creators opportunities to train, learn, share content and succeed. (Shine Network)

“Unlimited barriers” remain

While providing these opportunities and resources is necessary to break down barriers facing Indigenous creators, she said, there is still “an unlimited range of barriers within the industry itself. same”.

The biggest hurdle, Podemski said, is the “capacity of indigenous peoples as societies.” Despite the proven track record of Indigenous productions, it’s often difficult to secure investment, while Podemski said broadcasters often ask Indigenous creators “to have partners who aren’t Indigenous so that…they can feel more confident that they will get the delivery they’re looking for.”

“I’m quite sad to see that we’re still almost invisible in terms of the kind of work we’re able to do, the kind of money we can access, and the kind of audience we can engage,” she says. “Because we don’t have the platforms to get our stories out to a wider audience.”

Until that can change, said Podemski, indigenous creators are forced to rely primarily on self-directed training opportunities to nurture young talent.

But even still, the positive effects of this training are undeniable. At 24, Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat is a young player in the Canadian entertainment industry. He fell into acting only a few years ago after a scout spotted him working at a country club and asked him to audition.

After booking her first role in the drama series Tribalhe later landed a role in Letterkenny spin off shoresyin which he plays Sanguinet, comic foil to the main character and Shoresy hockey player.

Harlan Kytwayhat appears in a scene from Shoresy. (Bell Media)

Kytwayhat says that having grown up in Makwa Sahgaiehcan, a Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan, acting or acting classes were not opportunities for him or any of his friends, which meant that he had never even considered a career in the film or television industry for himself.

Now, seeing where his career has taken him, one of his ultimate goals is to one day start an arts program on his reservation – to champion the arts as a viable career for young Indigenous children so they can forge their own way. a path in the industry as he did. did.

“I really hope it progresses more here,” Kytwahat said. “And not just here, but like all small towns, small communities and other reservations.”