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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Small Fort Chipewyan Film Earns Place At Toronto International Film Festival
by Wallis Snowdon - CBC News
'Once I heard it, I just got a vision of images. I could see exactly how I exactly wanted to create the film'

Lorne Cardinal stars in the Gods Acre, a short film shot in the remote northern community of Fort Chipewyan. (photo courtesy of Gods Acre)

Putting his ancestral home of Fort Chipewyan in front of the lens has earned Kelton Stepanowich attention on the international stage.

Gods Acre, set in the tiny hamlet 250 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, has landed a spot at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

"I was super ecstatic," the northern Alberta filmmaker said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "It's such a validating thing to happen.

"There were 4,000 submissions this year, so the fact that an Alberta film like this got chosen, I feel great about it."

The short film tells the story of an elderly Aboriginal trapper living in isolation in northern Alberta.

As rising water levels swallow up his home, Frank, played actor Lorne Cardinal, has to make a decision: abandon the home where his family has lived for generations or adapt to his changing environment.

Stepanowich said the concept came from co-writer and long-time friend Derek Vermillion.

"Due to water levels rising, there is a lot of land that's being eroded and disappearing around the world. And he thought this is such an interesting concept, what if we meshed it with our background? Our grandfathers were Aboriginal trappers who lived off the land — how would a character like that deal with a situation like this?

"Once I heard it, I just got a vision of images. I could see exactly how I wanted to create the film."

After a few months working on the script and finalizing casting, production began in the summer of 2015.

They filmed over three days at Lake Athabasca on the Mikisew Cree First Nation's Allison Bay reserve.

The community is only accessible by small charter plane or winter road, so flying in props and production equipment was a logistical feat for their small crew.

Without the support of the local community, Stepanowich said the challenges would have been insurmountable.

"They allowed us to film our project on their traditional lands, they offered us supplies, they housed us and really saw our vision of what we were trying to do, and supported us the entire way.

"Without the region and community itself, this movie would have never been made."

As he looks forward to attending the September screening, Stepanowich hopes his experience will inspire the next generation of Indigenous filmmakers.

"If we were able to make a movie and get to TIFF, you can do it too, and do it better. We want to let these young kids know that there are more options for them in our communities."

Gods Acre was filmed over three days in the summer of 2015 on the shores of Lake Athabasca. (photo courtesy of Gods Acre)
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