Indigenous Vancouver Island filmmaker retells ancient story in modern form

Cameron Watts from Tseshaht First Nation will re-tell a Nuu-chah-nulth story in film

Aspiring filmmaker Cameron Watts from the Tseshaht First Nation in the Alberni Valley has earned StoryHive funding to produce a Nuu-chah-nulth-based film. SUBMITTED PHOTO

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

In Nuu-chah-nulth legend, shipwrecked fishermen were lured into the forest by supernatural fires before being driven to madness and turning feral.

The ancient myth of Pokmis, a cautionary tale, will be retold in contemporary form by Cameron Watts. An emerging Tseshaht filmmaker from Port Alberni, Watts is among 47 artists from B.C. and Alberta recently awarded $10,000 in project funding by Storyhive 2018.

The Telus-funded program includes a category for digital short films, Watts’ specialty since his Indigenous Independent Filmmaking studies at Capilano University. Winning submissions are selected on the basis of online voting.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to really take that first step working on my own out of school,” Watts said after wrapping up another film project in Alberta. “I’ve spent the last two years getting to know the industry in Vancouver.”

The funding also presents an opportunity to realize his artistic ambition — to shine a light on aspects of his Nuu-chah-nulth culture that are little known outside of the traditional territory.

“What would Pokmis look like today?” Watts asked. “A lot of our stories, especially on the west coast (of the Island), haven’t been told. I want to bring the whole west coast into these movies.”

He sees a wilderness parallel between First Nations youth drawn to the city and the Pokmis lost in the forest, both languishing through separation from community and culture. They lose a sense of identity and place in the world.

The plot follows the path of Freddie, played by an actor wearing a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth mask (the “neon mask” shown in the photograph is strictly for promotional purposes). Overwhelmed by urban culture and substance use, he becomes lost. His sister sets out to find him. Rain in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside serves as a metaphor for cleansing.

All through high school, Watts took acting courses, an interest he continued to pursue at Capilano University before switching career paths. Following some advice, he took a course on working behind the camera and discovered a new love for filmmaking. Having a background in acting gives him an advantage in communicating with cast and crew, he said.

The short film, limited to 10 minutes in length, has to come together by Aug. 7. Tight budgeting was part of the discipline involved in assembling the project and submitting his application to Storyhive.

“I still want to pay people a livable wage. That’s basically the majority of the budget.”

Due to financial constraints, Pokmis will be filmed in Vancouver for the most part with the story stitched together using “B-roll” or secondary sequences.

How did a Tseshaht artist succeed in drawing enough online support over a three-day period to compete with artists from much larger communities?

“I reached out to my very large family on the Island,” he said. “My uncle was really excited about it. He had my back for three days.”

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