First Nations animation

Quickdraw reaches out to young people with their Aboriginal Youth Animation Project

Brian Batista doesn’t mince words when describing what it’s like to instruct Quickdraw Animation’s Aboriginal Youth Animation Project.

“It burns you out” says Batista who’s serving as the program’s instructor for the fifth year. “I’m at the end of my wits right now with 10 days left. You couldn’t even imagine the things I go through every year. While animations are being made people become homeless. This isn’t teaching in a school; it’s an immensely challenging program.”

That said Batista’s “in a joyous position.” Seven three-minute films will be displayed during the screening a marked improvement over past years.

Some of the success can be attributed to the greater role Quickdraw had in choosing participants; in past years Service Canada (one of the program’s major funders) was more involved resulting in a mixed bag of talent and enthusiasm. Batista points to a fairly disastrous past year in which nobody knew how to draw and only a few were interested in learning the craft.

“To Service Canada it’s an employment program” Batista says. “To me it’s about storytelling. The most important thing is that I’m giving these guys through the art of animation a voice. I don’t do the work I aid them to do it. That’s the other amazing part: I’m not sitting there doing it for them hand-holding. They really have to pull their pants up and they do.”

The program is full-time with the school requiring seven hours a day to learn how to draw and use filmmaking programs. Eventually — for the last six weeks specifically — students work to produce three minutes of movement. There are impediments to be sure: four of the students have to drive an hour into the city from the Morley reserve. But most of the participants worked their asses off to learn the skills and create a film.

Lane Ferguson is one such example. His sisters took the program two years ago only furthering his interest in the subject matter. This year he signed up and has since created a “kind of sci-fi-ish” piece that overtly references the Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt . In addition to animating the piece Fergurson also scored it with a keyboard in the studio.

“It’s something I really enjoy” he says. “This is my first time actually doing this. I’ve never written music for a little film or anything like that so it was definitely another experience. I’m not that good at making music but it is what it is.”

As illustrated by Ferguson the tales that are told through the films aren’t restricted to traditional Aboriginal histories or to colonization genocide and displacement. As Batista explains “Their voice is urban and modern. In the past we kind of forced them like ‘oh do something on residential schools.’ But these guys are going over and beyond that. Hopefully that’s good.”

It’ll remain a good thing — or at least a way of challenging stereotypes about indigenous youth — as long as the funding exists. Peter Hemminger the director of Quickdraw says the program is a significant priority for the board but recent budget cuts at the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada the other major funder means the program’s future is difficult to predict.

“The restructuring did kind of throw us for a bit of a loop” says Hemminger. “We had thought we were on track to have it again but that seemed more straightforward when we started than when we found out about the restructuring about a month ago.”

But the bureaucratic shenanigans that are putting the future of the program in question won’t jeopardize the organization’s relationship with current participants. After graduation some past students have come back to teach while others return simply to mess around with animation software in the studio space. Ferguson for one plans on continuing his exploration of the artform.

“It is definitely something I want to look forward to” he says. “I could also just come back here and book time on a computer to make my own personal stuff to make more.”