Filmmaker Andrée Cazabon brings her latest documentary to the ROM for a screening and discussion about issues facing children on First Nations reserves.
Filmmaker Andrée Cazabon didn’t have to look very hard to find the eight children, all orphaned after parental suicides, who are the subjects of Third World Canada, her latest film. The documentary tells the story of those children, and also of the efforts of their northern Ontario community—the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation—to provide for them.
“This should be one of the most tragic stories,” Cazabon told us. “But this is almost a day in the life of a police officer, of a front-line child welfare workers, of a chief of a community. This [film] is unique because it’s about eight children. But children being orphaned by suicide is happening across First Nations reserves in this country, and it’s time we pay attention to it.”
Cazabon’s film is screening at the Royal Ontario Museum on Thursday night as part of a multi-city tour that will bring the movie’s subjects—and other Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (K.I.) residents—together with Torontonians, in the hopes of sparking dialogue about the some of the issues facing First Nations children.
When Cazabon visited K.I. (about 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay), she was planning to make a documentary about the generational impact of residential schools, as a follow-up to her film Wards of the Crown. It was then that she heard about Tyler McKay, a young boy living with his grandparents in a seniors’ home, after his parents had committed suicide. She rearranged the project around him.
Through her films, Cazabon tries to advocate for human rights—especially the rights of children. But she was not prepared for the conditions she saw in remote reserves. “I realized that we had to give it full, front-and-centre attention,” she said, “because it is the most urgent situation, when we talk about children at risk in Canada.”
Cazabon has worked with the CBC and the National Film Board, but while making Third World Canada she sought some separation from the film industry. Her goal was to use that freedom to incorporate K.I. community members into the filmmaking process, which she did by showing them rough cuts and welcoming input on some of the grimmer parts. Though she wanted to showcase more positive elements of the community, she says the community asked her to keep some of the darker scenes. “The chief said, ‘Look, this will be a tough film for Canadians to watch. They have to sit through the film and see it and understand this is something we live through every day of our lives here. So we’re not going to sugarcoat it,’” said Cazabon.
Cazabon says the spirit of the community shines through, for her, when she watches the film. “There’s some really beautiful things about communities in the north, and their outlook on finding solutions and being creative when it comes to making their community thrive,” she said. “When we as Canadians talk about shaping our country, those voices missing at our table are a loss.”
Though Cazabon has been working on the film since 2006, she’s not yet ready to begin her next project. She wants to keep touring the film and starting conversations between everyday Canadians and those living on First Nations reserves. She hopes those interactions will lead to ways of tackling problems like poverty, lack of access to education, and poor healthcare.
As she puts it: “I want everyday Canadians to say, ‘You know what, I’d like to care about this. I’d like to get involved. I’d like to see the third-, fourth-, and fifth-world conditions in my country come to an end, instead of sending our teenagers and young people to go build wells in Belize, when we have over a hundred communities in our country that don’t have safe drinking water.’”