Emerging filmmaker goes from acting to directing
The core values and stories of the Anishinaabe people drive Ajuawak Kapashesit as a storyteller, actor, writer and filmmaker.
Born and raised in the White Earth Ojibwe Nation of Ashinaabe, Cree, and Jewish ancestry, Kapashesit draws on that knowledge in his latest film, “Language Keepers,” an in-the-making short documentary slated for release next year.
“I let the stories I was told and the things and people I experienced bleed into my work as an actor, writer and director,” Kapashesit said. TIC.
“Whenever I approach or explore a project, I have to frame it from the perspective of where I come from and what it means to me as a member of the public,” he said. “That connection with the audience member is crucial to creating something with resonance.
His work is certainly resonating with the film industry.
Kapashesit, 32, directed and wrote the 2022 short, “Seeds,” with Morningstar Angeline. It was cited as one of the best films in February by the Independent Shorts Awards and was screened in person at the Māoriland Film Festival on June 30. He also directed the 2021 documentary short, “Carrying the Fire”, about Water Protectors.
His acting credits include the feature films ‘Indian Horse’ (2017), ‘Once Upon a River’ (2019) and ‘Indian Road Trip’ (2020), as well as work in the ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Outlander’ series. “. He was editor and contributing writer for the comedy show “Tallboyz” on CBC in 2020 and 2021, and has a short story, “A Fresh Start,” selected for publication in the anthology, “Before the Usual Time,” according to its website.
And he attended the CBC Actors Conservatory at the Canadian Film Center in 2019, was an Indigenous Film Opportunity Fellow at the Sundance Film Institute, and is currently a Nia Tero 4th World Media Lab Fellow.
“I try to bring different things to each film,” he said. “Some, I want an audience to come away with a fresh perspective; others, a form of cathartic release. And others, I think, can and should be used simply as an escape.
An early start
Kapashesit’s interest in cinema began at a young age.
“When I was growing up, I watched a lot of 80s and 90s movies,” he said. “My siblings and I used to watch ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’ a lot. They were some of our favorites. Then a lot of Indigenous movies, like ‘Once Were Warriors’, ‘Skins’ and ‘Smoke Signals’ Also, movies that aren’t about natives but are about us, like “Thunderheart.” We’ve watched a lot of stuff.
The first film he tried to shoot was related to “Star Wars“.
“I would say I was really influenced by ‘Star Wars,'” he said. “I would also be influenced a lot by the books, which for me at the time were the ‘Harry Potter’ series as well as the ‘Redwall’ series. Fantasy like that has always been my favorite.
At that time, his father had given him access to a video camera.
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“I remember my dad letting me use a little pocket camcorder,” he said. “With that, I got used to using a camera, which was a big influence on learning the process, especially how not to do certain things. It was near Moose Factory in Canada. I had the chance to travel a lot when I was a child, it really opened up the world to me.
He lived in Ponsford, Minnesota, and attended Detroit Lakes High School before moving to Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
But his film career did not materialize in college. In 2013, he obtained a degree in linguistics.
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“I didn’t really do movies in college,” he said. “I was more into linguistics and language revitalization at that time. I always try to do what makes sense to me in this field where and when I can.
Her fellowship with the 4th World Indigenous Media Lab has helped fuel her most recent work. He said he gained experience with documentaries, was able to attend the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival, and met other Indigenous artists and filmmakers.
“The 4th Global Indigenous Media Lab was a great experience,” Kapashesit said. “I was able to meet so many great Indigenous artists on both sides of the camera and learn about the business side of the industry, which is much harder to educate.”
He continued, “There are tons of talented writers, directors, and producers in our communities, but one of the biggest issues for them finding work is access to networks and funding. 4th World really helped with this access which was so great. It helped my career a lot. »
He said the media lab gave him the opportunity to work with another colleague, Angeline, on the “Seeds” project, which is currently shipping to festivals.
“I feel like parts of my creative process have slowed down at times over the past two years, with the pandemic making it particularly difficult,” he said. “But I also had great opportunities to grow as an artist, one of which was working with Morningstar Angeline.”
Yet he struggles to watch his own films from the public.
“I’m usually hyper critical about it or maybe just embarrassed,” he said. “But it wasn’t one of those times. It was a really special experience shooting and working for several months and now to have seen it is really rewarding.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done. And to do everything during the Covid, the pre-vaccinations, it was surreal.”
Kapashesit’s interest in linguistics is evident in his latest project, “Language Keepers,” about efforts in Minnesota to revive and preserve the Ojibwe language.
“My new piece, ‘Language Keepers’, is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said. “I’ve worked in language revitalization for over a decade, and once I got into film, I wanted to find a way to include that part of me.”
Angeline, who co-directed ‘Seeds’ and produced ‘Carrying the Fire’, now edits ‘Language Keepers’. The latest film is one of eight selected for the “Homegrown: Future Visions” project, a regional short film initiative overseen by a partnership between Firelight Media, PBS and the Center for Asian American Media.
The Homegrown Initiative provided $37,500 to eight emerging filmmakers who identified as people of color to produce 8-10 minute documentaries. Firelight and the center will work with the filmmakers throughout development and distribution.
Kapashesit said the film “really delves into the language revitalization work around technology that I was exposed to in Minnesota. It’s a super interesting part of the field that I don’t usually see or hear so much and that I wanted to highlight through the film…
“I guess I try to make movies that relate to me and my experiences and my emotions in some way and I just hope I’m not alone in those interests or feelings” , did he declare. “It’s really interesting to meet people who react to my work because of that.”
He has recently focused on writing and directing.
“It’s an intensive process and putting in the time and energy to do it right is important to me,” Kapashesit said. “I don’t know if I plan to mix these processes, because they are different for me. But I would love to get back to direct character work with the right project at the right time.
“But right now,” he said, “those films are plenty.”
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