By: Alison Wick, Arts Editor
Skoden is a one day Indigenous Film Festival happening Saturday, June 1 at SFU Woodwards. Skoden, an Indigenous slang term for “let’s go then”, promises to showcase Indigenous filmmaking in BC and to foster conversations about reconciliation and what it really means. In anticipation for their inaugural festival, I interviewed Carr Sappier (Wolastoqiyik) and Grace Mathisen, the festival’s directors and former SFU film students, over email about how the festival got started and why SFU needs it.
Alison Wick: When/how did you come up with the idea of an Indigenous film showcase at SFU? Was there a specific instance that made you realize the need for a showcase like this, or was it always something that you wanted to do?
Carr Sappier: It was something I always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon.
Grace Mathisen: It was Carr’s idea. We were studying together for a midterm when they told me about it. At the time, I was president of the Film Student Union, and I asked Carr for ways we could do more for reconciliation which led to a bigger conversation about how to be more proactive.
CS: You have to work actively with the community and involve the local community to practice reconciliation. I specifically remember you (Grace) asking, “What would you do?” and I told you my idea for what would become Skoden and you said, “Let’s do it.”
GM: SCA has an equity committee. I went to one of their meetings and told the faculty Carr’s idea. They were all really responsive to it. When I left the meeting, I texted Carr that it was happening.
CS: We were super surprised! We immediately had a team!
GM: It was crazy how quickly it all came together.
Why do you feel it is important that this is a part of the SCA/SFU and not simply an autonomous event?
CS: Reconciliation is a two-way thing between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples. Our festival is one example of many to practice reconciliation proactively. Being organized by an Indigenous and non-Indigenous student equally, working with the community and involving people of all ages and experiences to be a part of this event. For us, youth plays a big role in this festival so involving them and giving them space in these practices, we ensure that they’re part of the discussions that are happening.
GM: It’s not important that this is part of the SCA/SFU. It’s important that SCA/SFU supports and hosts events such as Skoden. There’s a lack of Indigenous students in SCA, like one or less Indigenous students in the room. A lot of our courses have an Indigenous component and this is supposed to be an institution creating the next generation of artists. What does that mean when there’s such a small representation of Indigenous students in our classrooms?
How did you decide on the festival name (which is perfect by the way), were there other things you were considering?
GM: Coyote Beautiful.
CS: Oh yeah, that’s right! We came up with the logo first.
GM: We both love trickster heroes so the coyote was always there.
CS: We’re both queer, so having a male and female coyote made it two-spirit.
GM: Another option was TIFF (Trickster Indigenous Film Festival) which would’ve been confusing and hilarious.
CS: We ultimately decided on Skoden though because it encapsulated the spirit of our festival best and what we were trying to do.
You have some pretty big names in your program (which is really exciting especially for the first year) so I am curious about the submissions process — did you reach out to specific filmmakers to submit or did they all enter on their own? Were you mostly evaluating films individually or were you thinking about how they could fit into a larger program?
GM: We really have to thank Kathleen Mullen for that one. She is our festival mentor and she got us into contact with a lot of great artists and organizations.
CS: We narrowed down our range of films by having all of the Indigenous Artists be tied to BC in some way.
GM: We took submissions through filmfreeway, too. We made it free to be as inclusive as possible, but then we go over 800 submissions worldwide which was very daunting.
CS: We thought about the essence of Skoden and the qualities of a trickster. Films that embraced being creative, pushing boundaries, and themes of identity. It was also important that even though Indigenous people had to be involved in major creative roles, the films themselves did not have to be about Indigenous issues. When we created the program, we didn’t want to separate the artists by their skill level, like treating youth as a niche category, but interweaving all the films equally.
GM: We ended up separating the two screenings by what was family-friendly and what had mature subject matter.
What have you learned in the process of creating and organizing this festival?
CS: Truly understanding how much work goes into organizing this kind of event. Opening ourselves up to criticism and learning to be vulnerable and leaning on each other.
GM: How to make better spreadsheets on Google. But if I’m being serious, the ethics surrounding my involvement throughout this process and what it meant for Carr and I share this responsibility. Our mentors and professors put a lot of trust in us in regards to making this happen for which we’re very grateful, but has also made the possibility of screwing this up really terrifying. From the very beginning, we’ve had two major goals for Skoden: the first was to celebrate the art of Indigenous filmmakers and performers, the second was to create a safe space for more dialogues to occur surrounding reconciliation. In a way, we made this festival so that we could continue to learn.
CS: I remember Sempulyan (The Elder who will be doing the Land Acknowledgements and facilitating the Witness Ceremony) saying, we’re always going to be striving towards reconciliation. It’s an ongoing process. I’m paraphrasing, but we just have to keep ourselves open to the possibilities of what reconciliation can look like.
Do you plan on continuing the festival annually? If so, what are you hopes and plans for future festivals (if you have some)?
CS: I don’t want to let go of there being a student presence on the organizing committee. We both have plans for our own careers as artists after graduation, but we really want to engage with more students who want to be involved in Skoden and be able to pass those roles down to them.
GM: We’ve discussed this already between us, but there’s no way I’d do it without Carr next year. Not because Carr’s amazing (though they are), but because if I stayed on and Carr didn’t, I’d be colonizing on the issues I came to support. Carr’s from the east coast so they’re not sure if they’re gonna be here next year.
CS: We’ve laid down the foundation and worked out a lot of the kinks, but we’re hoping the committee can get more creative next year and have more resources and connections at their disposal. We want to grow, but we want to be smart about it.
What are you most excited about for the festival this year? What do you want people to take away from the day?
CS: The youth! [To see] their reactions to their films on the screen and [for them to] be able to meet other filmmakers and film students at SFU. If we can help facilitate connections between the youth and people in the industry, we’ve done our job.
GM: Fuck yeah.
Skoden is on June 1 at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema in SFU Woodwards. There are two film programs divided based on appropriateness: the family showing at 1 p.m. (Stoodis First) and the adult showing at 4 p.m. (Stoodis Next). Tickets are required for each screening and are being sold through eventbrite on a sliding scale to welcome everyone regardless of funds.
You can read more about the specifics of the festival itself in our preview “Skoden Indigenous Film Festival promises to showcase some of the best in cinema,” which can be found online and in print.