The future is bright for Cariboo-Chilcotin Indigenous Filmmaker Trevor Mack.
Coming off of the widespread success of his recent film, In the Valley of the Wild Horses, that chronicles the 200-km wagon journey the Xeni Gwet’in make every year to the Williams Lake Stampede, Mack said he has a wide range of new projects he is preparing to embark upon. All are Indigenous based films and stories he hopes to make with the help of local Cariboo talent.
A proud Tshilqot’in filmmaker, Mack got his start in the medium of film by making trampoline compilation videos in his backyard. Mack and his friends would do tricks and flips, much to the disagreement of his aunts, uncles and mother, and in doing so he unknowingly became the director telling his cousins and friends how to jump and where to position the camera for the best shots.
This combined with his love of the cinematic video game series Halo, which Mack remembers playing every day as a teenager after he made his late grandmother lunch. He always insisted to his grandmother and mother that it was going to help him later on one day in his career.
After graduating from high school, he attended film school in Vancouver at 19 but “failed my first year and dropped out in my second year” and since then has gone on to make several films over the last seven years both in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and internationally.
As Mack sees it, in his line of work a piece of paper saying you can make a film isn’t really needed. Instead, his work speaks for itself and all that one really needs to make a film is the determination to see it through to completion.
“I’m always curious as to why people do things, of why things are the way they are in terms of the bigger picture. I wanted to explore that with intimate moments between people who are part of this bigger picture and that meant tackling my biggest fears and my story as an Indigenous person in Canada,” Mack said. “I think while on the journey of making these stories the only way you can truly connect yourself with these stories is if you are part of that story and if you explore your biggest and deepest fears, it’s constantly exploring yourself as a person and an artist for the love of working with people in my community.”
For Mack, the closest thing he feels is true success is crying during one of his films and knowing that other people are crying with it. For In the Valley of the Wild Horses, this moment was when he watched children and youth featured in the documentary point themselves out on the big screen and their elders looking at the land from a different perspective than they ever have before.
“There’s no end goal (for success) there’s no ‘I made it’ moment. It’s just always a constant journey,” Mack observed.
The journey Mack next embarks on is his first large feature film with a “monumental budget” compared to the short films he’s done in the past. Called Portraits from a Fire, it tells the story of a young teenage boy on a reserve who discovers his parents’ history by watching their old wedding tapes.
Reality will distort itself in the film, Mack said, as the wedding footage interweaves with the boy’s journey as he confronts himself. In it, Mack plans to tackle the issues of suicide, community, acceptance and defiance with a humorous tone.
He spent three years working with the Provincial Health Services Authority on suicide awareness project and in that time was shocked to discover how prevalent suicide is amongst young men and women on reserves across Canada. Mack reasons that the only time we hear of this issue is in the news after a kid dies and he wanted to have this discussion free of such a tragedy.
“I wanted to do that with comedy, the film is not necessarily a melodrama as it would sound, I’ve kind of discovered what kind of films I want to make,” Mack explained. “The filmmaker, Helen Haig-Brown (Edge of the Knife), she told me that Indigenous artists, we don’t want to be a part of this cycle of trauma and just show our own people being traumatized.”
“That is what colonization is, it’s artists being stuck in a cycle of just showing the remnants of colonization over and over again. To break that you need to take a look at situations from different perspectives, using levity and not necessarily over-complicating your story with just trauma, trauma,” Mack said.
Mack wants to tackle this heavy subject and others like it with more levity while addressing the importance of community and intimate relationships. Portraits from a Fire will be his first major attempt to implement this idea into his filmmaking.
The movie is in pre-production currently. Mack hopes to start location scouting in the next few months followed by auditions in possibly both Vancouver and Williams Lake itself. He’ll be looking for Indigenous talent amongst actresses and actors and encourages Cariboo-Chilcotin residents to audition for roles.
In partnership with Telus, he’s also excited to announce he will be facilitating a mentorship program on this film for aspiring young Indigenous filmmakers. Mack, the camera operator, the director of photography and other members of the crew will have mentees that they will show the tools of the trade to. Any young Indigenous person under the age of 25 with an interest or talent for filmmaking is invited to apply, when applications open.
“This will be a paid mentorship and it will be a serious mentorship, we’ll be working 15 hours a day for 20 straight days so it is not for the faint of heart,” Mack added.
For more detailed information on auditions and applications to become a mentee, Mack advises people to check his website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Mack also said has a TV project in the works with ScreenSiren, the company that made Indian Horse, which will be about a small town Canada story that “may or may not” relate to Williams Lake and “the drama that happens in the city.”
Kathleen Hepburn is currently writing a script for the project, however, Mack said this project is still in early stages.
Even more exciting for him is a script he hopes to work on called Eddie Shookama that follows a 12-year-old boy who is an aspiring magician on a reserve.
All is well until Eddie and his friends stumble upon a discarded disco ball filled with cash.
“That’s going to be a straight, pure comedy about this group of kids, their friendship and what happens when they discover a bunch of money,” Mack described, adding that a company from Hollywood has reached out to him about the script.
While the creative process can be hard, especially living as a starving artist in Vancouver, Mack remains thankful for his community, family and friends who have all supported him thus far.
When things get difficult, he says it’s easy to remember all that support and just keep on going every single day.