Glen YoungChief and Bruce Barry are co-founders of Achimok Film and Television, a production company from the Kehewin Indian Reserve in Alberta. In this member profile, YoungChief and Barry discuss their philosophy on filmmaking and share on their latest project, Status Code Red.
“Achimok Film & TV Inc. is the result of a merger between ChickenHorse Productions and a few stragglers,” says Achimok President and CEO Glen YoungChief. “For about a dozen years we have been doing industrials for the Federal Justice Department and various companies, developed shorts, a few features and a growing number of documentaries that are gaining us a wide audience in the States, Asia and Germany.”
Achimok (ut chi’ mok) is Cree for “all of you tell a story” and like many filmmakers in Alberta, are heralded more outside of Canada. Having recently returned from Japan for their documentary Natusru’s Trunk, the team is now getting ready for a shoot in South Dakota this summer.
“We are based on the Kehewin Indian Reserve and as such are a bit ‘off the urban grid,” notes Bruce Barry, Achimok Director of Development and Transmedia activities. Given the feast or famine of filmmaking, Achimok is now in a bit of a feeding frenzy. “We currently have no less than 4 active shooting projects, which may not seem like a lot to large production houses, but for a small group like us we are maxed out,” states YoungChief.
Recently, members of Achimok were in Los Angeles discussing The Hunt, a documentary about two young Native boys on their first Moose hunt with their Grandfather. YoungChief smiles as he recalls how Achimok collected the visuals for the documentary. “You turn on the camera, get in your truck, find a Moose, you take your rifle and shoot the Moose. The key is making sure the camera is on. There is not going to be a safety retake.”
Barry adds, “When challenged by non-hunters the response is always the same. As aboriginals we don’t apologize for our way of life. There is a thin line between explaining and justifying. We don’t feel the need for others approval and hopefully the truth of the narrative and the strength of the story comes out in our films.”
YoungChief adds, “One of my favourite quotes is from Hitchcock who tells us, ‘In feature films the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director.’” Achimok believes that as filmmakers who just happen to be aboriginals, they are a story telling people, and when a story presents itself, that it needs to be told.
Barry explains, “People love to put people or groups into a box, it makes them feel safer, that they convince themselves there are no unknowns. However, the problem with a box is that it usually comes with a lid. So we are aboriginal, we don’t just tell ‘aboriginal stories,’ we happen to be aboriginal and sometimes that limits who will hire us, or funding sources and such. We have yet to crack the government funding process and just gave up and moved on to other sources. Not bake sales, but other sources.”
“Like all filmmakers, if there is a story demanding to be told, we make sandwiches and scrape together what limited resources one has to tell the story.” This philosophy has been pushed to the limit more recently with their project Status Code Red.
The issue about long response times for EMS in the Province since the Government took control of all ambulance services in Alberta was recently reported in a three part series on Global by health reporter Heather Yourex. Prior to going to law school, Barry worked as a Paramedic and knew the main informant Global featured – George Porter – who in fact trained Barry as a Paramedic in the late 70’s in Calgary.
“Alberta Health Services is an interesting organization, parts of it are world renown and do excellent work, other aspects kinda make one scratch their head. For example they had a policy that directed no AHS employees could talk to any elected government officials!” muses YoungChief. “You know my father could not leave the Reserve once he turned 16 years old without a pass from the Indian Agent. So yes, we know a bit about Government flaunting its power.”
The team realizes their project will be entering controversial territory. “Yes [Alberta Health Services] are not pleased, we understand that, but that doesn’t mean we are going to put our cameras away and hide under our beds,” quips Barry. “This is in part what documentary filmmaking is about; using the power of story to tell people what is going on.”
For more information on Status Code Red visit: https://www.achimok.tv/status-code-red
Achimok’s official website: www.achimok.tv