Hot Docs 2019 Women Directors: Tasha Hubbard – “nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up”

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Dr. Tasha Hubbard is a writer, filmmaker, and associate professor at the University of Alberta. Her first solo writing/directing project, “Two Worlds Colliding,” premiered at imagineNATIVE in 2004 and won the Canada Award at the Gemini Awards in 2005. Her second feature, “Birth of a Family,” premiered at Hot Docs 2017 and landed in the top ten audience favorites list. It also won the Audience Favorite Award for Feature Documentary at the Edmonton International Film Festival and the Moon Jury Prize at imagineNATIVE.

“nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up” will premiere at the 2019 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on April 25.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

TH: This documentary is my attempt, as an Indigenous mother, to tell the story of what happened to Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man shot and killed by a non-Indigenous farmer in the Canadian prairies in the summer of 2016. Following the murder, social media lit up with people saying things like the farmer’s only mistake was leaving witnesses. The farmer was later acquitted in a trial that was heard by a white-presenting jury, which sent shockwaves throughout the country.

The film shows Colten’s family attempting to get justice in a system that is set up to work against them. It follows them as they arrive at the seat of Canada’s power and push the doors open in order to be heard. It also weaves in the history of our territory and is told through my own personal lens as an Indigenous person adopted into a farm family and who is raising an Indigenous son in difficult times.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

TH: I was gutted by Colten’s death. The randomness of his shooting, in the broad light of day, struck fear into me as a mother. I kept thinking of his mother and family and what they were going through. I felt like this story needed to be told from an Indigenous viewpoint.

My National Film Board co-producer Bonnie Thompson, who produced my previous films, helped me realize I could tell the story and do it justice.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

TH: I want them to think of the young people in their lives, how they feel about them, and what it would be like to have something like this happen to them. That Indigenous people in North America don’t have the luxury of believing in the justice system because it has shown them from the beginning that it isn’t meant for them.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

TH: I had never followed a criminal trial before, so I had to learn how our legal system actually worked. Then I had to find a way to boil down the trial to its essence, including how Colten’s family experienced it, and then find a way to communicate that in a short period of time.

I found it to be incredibly complicated, and I’m thankful for [National Film Board producer] Jon Montes, who really plodded through all the minute details to assist me.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

TH: The film is a co-production between the National Film Board and Downstream Documentary, a company I founded with my co-producer and DP George Hupka. We financed our part of the budget through provincial (Creative Sask) and national funding available to Canadian filmmakers (Canadian Media Fund, Telefilm).

We also had two broadcasters attached: the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

We also received support from the Hot Docs International Film Festival.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

TH: When I was in my mid 20s, I met the late Cree filmmaker Gil Cardinal. I knew I wanted to do something in the arts but hadn’t found where I fit. He helped me figure that out.

I think my grandpa also inspired me, because he was the one who taught me how to observe the world around me.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

TH: The best advice I was given was to really listen to creative feedback and then decide what resonates and what doesn’t. And also that it is OK to not listen to advice as long as you have considered it in full.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I think all the advice I have been given has been helpful in some way.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

TH: To find the people to work with who really believe in your vision and talent. Sometimes I worked with people who seemed best positioned industry-wise, but in the end they didn’t support the way I wanted to tell the story.

I have also learned to not be afraid to speak out against unfair practices in the film industry, and I try to think of the people coming behind me and what I want for them. I hope to see that happen more and more, because change only happens when it is pushed through.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

TH: I really love “Winter’s Bone” by Debra Granik. I wrote a screenplay after watching it, because I was so inspired by the storytelling that was so grounded in a particular place and allowed the land to be a character. That’s how I see the world and it was inspiring to see it realized in a film.

W&H: It’s been a little over a year since the reckoning in Hollywood and the global film industry began. What differences have you noticed since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements launched?

TH: I think the industry is starting to be ready to have difficult conversations about how women are treated in the industry, and not just how women are treated, but also people of color and Indigenous filmmakers. The increased use of inclusion riders and other initiatives are creating change.

I think the days of a uniform perspective or only one kind of voice represented in the film industry are done. I’m so happy about that, as we all should be, both as filmmakers and as audience members.