Indigenous cinema celebration

Short film by young Canadian filmmakers joins roster of the The Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival, which celebrates Indigenous creators from around the world

New Zealand songwriter Donna Dean

The Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF) kicks off on Thursday, Nov.23. The four-day fest features some of the best of Indigenous cinema. WAFF brings in some of the biggest names in Indigenous cinema each year. Opening night screenings this year include New Zealand filmmaker Bill Morris’s The Sound of Her Guitar, a documentary about, and featuring, New Zealand songwriter Donna Dean, and a short film called Forever Young from students including Cody Bighetty and Andrew Caribou of Frontier Collegiate Institute, a northern campus that serves many remote communities.

 “I’m nervous and excited at the same time because I never really thought that something like this would ever happen. [Caribou and I are] both from a small isolated community up north,” Bighetty said. “It’s pretty much a big deal having come out of a small community to do something like that.”

The students involved in the project worked with Jim Compton, artistic director of the Adam Beach Film Institute to write a script, learn to act, and produce the short film. Students spent half a week taking acting lessons and production lessons before shooting the film.

“We shot this on a RED camera, which is what they shoot Hollywood movies on,” Compton said. “It’s a big set, big location find, so they got all the feel of putting together a script and shooting a script and all the work that goes into it over a two week period. And they’re just enthralled about it.” 

The film shows the struggle of a young man looking to get out of drug business with the help of his girlfriend. Bighetty performed as the main antagonist, Stu. He said it was a “pretty great experience.”

“The experience for me, it was daunting at first. Because I didn’t really know what was expected of me on the first few days. But after five days of acting classes and shooting the actual film, I got into the speed of things and I much rather enjoyed it,” Bighetty said. 

Caribou had the opportunity to do sound for the film. “It was pretty good. I had some fun here and there. I was just taught the basics of how to work the sound. It wasn’t that hard, I got into it pretty quick.”

For Compton, the hope is that students will come to the Adam Beach Institute for more classes after graduation. 

“We collaborated with the Frontier School Division on a project to get high school students, mainly grade 12 students, interested in film and television,” he said.

Some of the students, including Bighetty, are returning to Winnipeg for the opening night.

“If there’s a red carpet, I’m more than willing to walk down it,” Bighetty said.

The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday and will end with a sold-out Manitoba Filmmakers Night. A number of films, from documentary, to short film, to scripted full length films will be showcased, including Indian Horse, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

“It’s based on the book by Richard Wagamese, and as soon as we posted about it on Facebook we’ve been getting tons of emails asking when is it, how can we attend,” Rajotte said. Indian Horse will show on Saturday Nov. 25 at 9 p.m.

WAFF started out as a day of film screenings at the University of Winnipeg, according to Rajotte. Now in its sixteenth year, it has grown and brings in Indigenous creators from around the world. 

“When we started there weren’t as many Indigenous film makers, but now we get hundreds of submissions and the quality of the work is a big change from 16 years ago,” Rajotte said. 

“We’re seeing more feature films.”

All screenings for the WAFF will take place at the Dramatic Arts Centre at 585 Ellice Avenue. Tickets are available at, which range from $5-$10, and weekend passes are $35.