Focal Point: Roxann Whitebean wins International Emerging Filmmaker Award at Montreal First Peoples Film Festival

Roxann Whitebean

At the National Screen Institute, we’re thrilled to celebrate our alumni and their accomplishments. Through Focal Point we aim to highlight significant milestones our alumni achieve with their projects and in their careers.

Congratulations to Roxann Whitebean (NSI IndigiDocs) for winning the International Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2021 Montreal First Peoples Film Festival with her film Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey.

Roxann is a Mohawk writer, director and producer from Kahnawake, Quebec. She began her career in 2014 with her first short film Legend of the Storm – a recollection of the 1990 Oka Crisis from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl – which premiered at the Montreal First Peoples Film Festival in 2015.

Six years later, as she accepted her award on the same stage where her first film premiered, she expressed her gratitude for the full circle moment.

“I’m really honoured and thrilled,” said Roxann. “[Montreal First Peoples Film Festival] has been supporting me as an artist and helping me build a platform for the stories I want to tell.”

Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey is the firsthand account of one Onondaga man, Hickory Edwards, who has devoted his life to the rediscovery of the path of his people. Relying on the knowledge of Elders and intuition to guide his team in the right direction, Hickory, along with his five-year-old daughter Elli, hopes to navigate the waterways and travelling routes long forgotten by his people.

This project was unlike anything Roxann had done before. She and her team spent 10 days on the Eerie Canal rediscovering forgotten Haudenosaunee waterways. Roxann faced new challenges as a filmmaker like relying on the sun as her only light source and making snap decisions to find the best shots while on the water.

Throughout filming, Roxann realized she was on a journey of her own. As a Haudenosaunee woman, it was painful to see the impact colonization has had on the environment around her. It made her want to deepen her connection to her history, land and the film.

“I don’t know the land intimately like I would have hundreds of years ago, so this was very eye opening for me,” said Roxann. “It made me want to dig deeper into our history.”

Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey screened at the 2021 Montreal First Peoples Film Festival in early August. When it was announced Roxann had won the International Emerging Filmmaker Award, she was shocked and honoured by the recognition.

“We all worked really hard on this film,” said Roxann. “You don’t make a film alone. I thanked the cast and crew; this wouldn’t be possible without them – especially Hickory and Elli.”

Roxann credits the National Screen Institute with connecting her to new opportunities throughout her career. Now-retired program manager Elise Swerhone helped Roxann find the editor who would eventually work on the Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey.

“Whenever there are funding opportunities or workshops that [the National Screen Institute] thinks I would be suited for, they send it my way. I’m really grateful to have NSI in my corner.”

Today, Roxann, Hickory and Elli are preparing for their next journey: a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii to screen their film at a powwow celebrating Indigenous cultures from around the world.

Congratulations on this award, Roxann. We are excited to see what happens next for you as you take your career to a new level and share your work around the world!

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