Every year, Playback highlights 10 up-and-coming Canadians in the film/broadcast industry. These 10 emerging creatives are celebrated for their prominent voices and original ideas.
The following piece, written by Lauren Malyk and reproduced with the kind permission of Playback, shines a light on Ryan Cooper and their start in the industry.
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Ryan Cooper isn’t afraid to talk about past battles with self-acceptance.
The 36-year-old Ojibwe two-spirit LGBTQ2S+ writer/producer/director from Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation, who uses the pronouns he and they interchangeably, admits that they have had to come to terms with accepting who they really are over the years. A theme that also shines through in some of the stories that they create.
Take animated comedy My Sassy Sasquatch, for example.
The 10 x 15-minutes digital series in development with CBC Gem – which was tapped as one of the Banff World Media Festival (BANFF) and Independent Production Fund’s (IPF) Producer Bursaries earlier this year – draws inspiration from the First Nation Ojibway legend and one of the seven grandfather teachings, following a teenage boy and a two-spirited Sasquatch from the non-colonial spirit world who is tasked with helping him live honestly.
Telling stories like this that come from reality in a modern, authentic and entertaining way are what drive the co-CEO of prodco Rainy Storm Productions, who notes the project’s eponymous Sasquatch character is the embodiment of what Cooper aspires to be. “It stands for honesty,” Cooper tells Playback.
Growing up, Cooper recalls always wanting to be creative but encountering various challenges along the way, including a dyslexia diagnosis when he was in school. Undeterred, they ended up penning a story that drew plaudits from his classmates.
Deciding to pursue acting, the creative left home at 17-years-old without consulting their parents, taking part in a summer program at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto.
However, after completing the program, Cooper struggled to find acting work and faced frustrating stereotypes, leading him to pursue further studies, such as a filmmaking course at the University of Winnipeg and new media at Interactive Design Nu Media.
Those studies led Cooper to the National Screen Institute where his career really got started.
Taking part in the non-profit’s CBC New Indigenous Voices program in 2017, Cooper worked on the first season of Nüman Films’ APTN/TVO docuseries First Contact, and the IndigiDocs program in 2018, where he produced the Gimli Film Festival award-winning When the Children Left with writer/director/producer Charlene Moore.
It was during this time that Cooper learned the fundamentals of production, and, crucially, how to advance their career. The NSI showed them the doors to go through, Cooper says. They just had to do the work to walk through them.
It’s his combination of drive and personality that has paved the way for all the success he’s seen, says NSI manager, programs & development Ursula Lawson, who previously ran the CBC New Indigenous Voices program.
And when you have a group of people, there’s always one that brings them all together, Lawson adds. Cooper is just “that sort of person.”
“He loves to do what other people stress about,” Lawson notes. “You can have Claude [Joli-Coeur] from the NFB, you can have Val Creighton in the room, he’ll just walk up to them and talk to them. He’s a very sincere character and that definitely comes across.”
Cooper’s reputation is starting to precede them, and Lawson says she gets “a kick” when industry people at festivals outside of Manitoba talk to her about the writer/producer/director, recommending the two connect.
Since Cooper graduated, his career has quickly progressed.
For instance, in 2018 the producer won the APTN/imagineNATIVE Web Series Pitch Competition with director Adeline Bird for docuseries iNdigiThreads (3 x 30 minutes). Originally set to shoot before the pandemic, the project tracking three Indigenous designers as they claim back their identity through fashion is also part of Telefilm Canada’s 2019/20 Talent to Watch.
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