A Sault Ste. Marie-based filmmaker recently travelled to Fort Frances to direct a short film that gives a snapshot of urban indigenous culture and the United Native Friendship Centre.
The production, “Zaa-gi'idiwin,” was a community project and primarily the vision of the UNFC.
It is part of a short film series titled “Urban Indigenous Proud” and was released by the National Film Board of Canada on June 21 for National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“The film shows what the UNFC is in Fort Frances, the services that it provides and also acts as an educational tool for those that don't know what Friendship Centre's are,” explained the film's director Tracie Louttit.
“Every Friendship Centre I have been to over the years has that sense of home so that was the feeling we wanted to capture, was the sense of home and the sense of love and what does that mean,” she added.
When moving to a new place, the UNFC acts as a “starting point” to help indigenous people or non-indigenous people get settled and access any resources they may need, Louttit noted.
“I would hope that the audience that watches the film can sense and feel what it's like at the UNFC,” she remarked.
“That it's a safe place for newcomers coming into the city from indigenous communities, that they can go and feel at home and feel welcomed,” Louttit added.
“We know that it's never easy to start a new life somewhere, especially if you're coming from a very isolated northern community and moving into a bigger city—it can be slightly intimidating.”
While Louttit has worked in the film and television industry since the late '90s, “Zaagi'idiwin” is the first film she has ever directed, which was an extremely gratifying experience, she told the Times.
The title of the production, “Zaagi'idiwin," when translated means "love” and is one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings which encompasses the morals, values, structures, ceremonial practices, and spiritual beliefs of indigenous people.
“Shooting the film was an amazing experience and it really reflects the title,” Louttit said.
“The people that work at the UNFC, the amazing staff, the wonderful people that come there, they do everything with love. You can see it and feel it as soon as you walk into the building,” she added.
“It's really beautiful and an incredible experience.”
Interestingly, the film itself does not have any narration but instead lets the visuals of the UNFC's programs, ceremonies, and cultural practices do the talking.
The UNFC's drum is the focal point of the film because the drum is very sacred and is recognized as a living spirit in indigenous cultures, Louttit noted.
“Zaagi'idiwin” was shot in January of 2018 and a local screening took place in November of last year where 80 people attended.
Louttit said she really enjoyed shooting the film in Treaty #3 territory, barring the -30 °C weather that posed some problems for her camera equipment when shooting outside.
Her favourite part of the visit to Northwestern Ontario was working with the UNFC staff to achieve their shared vision for the film.
“Generally, this entire experience with the film was very memorable; it resonated deep within me on many levels,” Louttit recalled.
“There was a few full circles that happened during the course of that time . . . from when I first started out to the time that we started shooting,” she added.
“That's pretty profound and when something like that happens it reminds you of where you are in your journey and it reminds you that yes you're on the right path just keep moving forward, keep doing what you love to do and everything will be fine.”
The film can be viewed for free online at: https://www.nfb.ca/film/urban-indigenous-proud-zaagiidiwin/