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First Nations activism and The Road Forward

New documentary charts the history of one of Canada's most important civil rights movements

Ronnie Dean Harris meeting Doreen Manuel

Courtesy NFB

Ronnie Dean Harris meeting Doreen Manuel

The Road Forward connects important moments in Canada’s civil rights history – specifically the beginnings on Indian Nationalism in the ‘30s to First Nations activism today. Producer and former Calgarian Shirley Vercruysse walked us through the filming process ahead of its screening at the Marda Loop Justice Film Fest on Nov. 19.

Q: Explain the musical aspects of the documentary?

A: (Director Marie Clements) was been doing a lot of research around First Nations activism, which led her to the Native Rights newspaper. When she read all of these news articles from across the country she started building this picture of First Nations issues that were at the forefront in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s – that are still here today. So she looked for a way to connect those.

She wrote these songs that were based around these newspaper articles, which were issue based.

One thing leads to another, so we recorded the songs, arranged them so they would work in the film. So we have a series of interviews with First Nations activists and artists and in-between are story songs.

Each song addresses an issue. They’re shot a lot like a music video. The movie starts off with a song in the first minute.

Q: Why was this an important project for you to join?

A: I had just come to the NFB and Marie was one of the first people I met. Part of what we’re trying to do as the National Film Board are films that have a personal impact and conversation for the community.

This one, when we sat down and she talked about it, I could totally see the film. I could see doing the music this way and these interviews. She is an established artist in many different mediums, so it was like her voice and how she was going to carry this important message.

Q: What was the most memorable moment during filming?

A: There’s one. You’ll see it in the film. It’s a recreation of George Manuel’s speech where he talks about, ‘you don’t ask for it, you take it.’ It’s Ronnie Dean Harris (Ostwelve) and he’s talking and George Manuel’s daughter Doreen Manuel is there.

Filming that, you could just feel the presence of a generation – the location we were at.

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