The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. We wanted to invite individuals working within the creative field to provide their voice, opinions and suggestions for the improvement, development and future of the Canadian creative community.
Jamie Whitecrow is a Toronto- based writer, producer, multi – media artist and aspiring filmmaker. Most recently working as a Project Coordinator with the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (The Centre for Aboriginal Media) which ran digitally from October 20-25th 2020, Jamie shared more about her influences and approach to film and what she’s been working on during the pandemic.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?
I studied philosophy in University and previously worked on Aboriginal community development initiatives through a number of social work and community health organizations. Now I’m at York University pursuing an MFA in Film Production, and working in Arts administration and freelance for different Film, Video, Media-Arts, and Television projects. I’m a self-taught artist, currently focused on writing, directing, and producing, and developing a solid, solo filmmaking practice.
I grew up on a reserve in Northwestern Ontario with lots of time to nurture solo creative pursuits like painting, drawing, writing, and making videos. With certainty, all of my early interests have influenced a life-long commitment to creativity and art-making. I’ve tried quite a few things before deciding on filmmaking: writing, comedy, stand-up, theatre, performance art, installation, dance, acting, singing, music, pattern drafting, sewing, make-up… I felt like everything I tried was part of a bigger picture, which was film. I’m now at the beginning of a long challenging trail ahead, but that’s what makes life exciting.
No artist ever brags about the boring stuff, but I just want to say for the record; I have a strong administrative background and it’s definitely helped to further my interest in curating and planning for events, workshops, and panels. I find that these skills have helped me to give back to the artistic community, and to create jobs and opportunities for other people.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
“Fail fast, fail forward”
I’ve revolutionized my relationship with failure, and it’s changed the way that I do things. As an artist, you’re constantly pouring yourself into your work – emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically – and it can make you feel incredibly vulnerable to public scrutiny. The vulnerability never goes away, and it can definitely cause some blocks for creative people. One way I’ve allowed myself to consistently create is to accept that what I’m making might turn out to be really bad; it might not make sense, it could be the worst thing I’ve made, but that’s okay! The faster you fail and the more strategic you are in your failure, the quicker you can refine your technique. Creating this way opens up a space for reflection and evaluation of what didn’t work, and what needs to change in moving forward. I think the revision part is so important to your own growth as an artist, and also as a human.
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?
I am now a solo filmmaker, and I’m actually really enjoying it. The pandemic has pushed me to figure out how to make films in isolation, and since I’m all about quantity at this point, I want to try many different things as quickly as possible. I took an archive filmmaking class, and an Essay Film class; I learned about process cinema, remediation and recycling of images, and video collage-making. Learning new techniques that I can do by myself has shifted my creative approach, I’m more inclined to experiment and my understanding of time and images in cinema has changed. It’s also opened some doors for me with video work and new commissions.
However, the pandemic has also been hard on my mental health; I’m living my entire life from one position (in front of a laptop) often times from one room … it feels like a scene out of the mind of Camus or Sartre… is my hand really a hand? How do I know? I’m learning that lots and lots of breaks are important to break up the monotony.
Q: What are you working on/up to right now?
Currently my time is occupied by my thesis film for my MFA degree, it’s called “The First Indigenous Female Pornographer, a mockumentary, found-footage, archival film of Audrey Little-breast, a pornographer turned prestigious artist extraordinaire whom wins and refuses a lifetime achievement award”. It’s a satire on the politics of recognition in Canada among First Nations and Settler relations. I’m also working on another experimental short film about an Anishinaabe woman who’s recovering death rituals from her community after the passing of her mother.
Q: Your project “Whose Porn?” has some powerful symbolism. Can you share a little about your creative process with this work?
Whose Porn? was my first attempt at an essay film. The essay film embodies a self-referentiality whether it be during the creation process and/or weaved into the visual narrative. It’s a poetic extension of the documentary genre that blends fact and fiction, using the author as the vehicle to understanding the on-screen world. Some famous filmmakers in this genre for reference include Dziga Vertov, Trin T. Minh-Ha and Chris Marker.
I’m currently obsessed with this approach to filmmaking and I think it makes a lot of sense when thinking about epistemology; things like how we come to learn and do things in the world, and understand each other. Using your own experiences as the anchor for storytelling seems like a natural thing to me, and so I’ve been figuring out how to pull auto-ethnographical techniques into my story-telling.
Whose Porn? was a reflection piece on my thesis research: A LOT OF THINKING ABOUT PORN. It’s a film that employs found-footage and recycled imagery. I didn’t shoot any of the footage myself, but curated each shot from my own archives and research, editing, and sounds. In writing The First Indigenous Female Pornographer (My thesis film), I’ve been learning about the Pornography world in the Americas, sexuality, censorship, and how systemic oppression and racism guides the unspoken direction of these mechanisms. There’s an absence of real humanity in mainstream pornography, there’s a segregation and erasure of coloured bodies, and there’s an absolute refusal to look at this type of media as part of our cultural landscape. It’s horrendously fascinating to study. I thought it could be fun to create a humorous essay film on myself -watching porn- and at the same time, try to get across the fundamentals of the pornography machine. I did laugh a lot making it, which was the perfect release after all the research I’ve been doing.
Q: Your recent video work is primarily in Black and White, is this intentional?
The films I’ve been working on recently are found-footage/archival, mostly shot on film (black and white), and they’ve been inspired by the COVID times. I can’t go out and shoot right now without putting a cast and crew at risk, so I’m using what I have available to me; open-source imagery from 1886-2019, and whatever I find on the internet.
Q: How do you envision the future of in-person/ interactive events like film festivals, art shows and live music events, given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?
It seems that everything is moving online, which is great for time-management if you can watch and participate at your own leisure, zero travel time. I definitely miss the social aspects of in-person experiences, but the online world has its advantages—freedom and flexibility to attend anything in the world. This year film festivals have moved online, I imagine that once the danger subsides, film festivals will move to a half-online and half in-person approach. It makes a lot of sense, you give your audience a lot more flexibility and opportunity if you have online options.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector? How has your experience been as an Indigenous artist in the city?
Give the jobs to POC, there are a lot of talented and highly skilled folks out there.
Provide equal pay.
Remember that POC are not your consultants.
I also think it’s important for companies/collectives/local organizations to do their own work to make change, don’t hire someone (i.e., POC) to do it for you. The world is full of injustices and inequality because people are not taking responsibility to initiate the change they want to see. Sit down and work with your staff, brainstorm together, hire more POC and treat them as integral members of your team and work toward collective vision. Until we see diversity and inclusion reflected back in our daily lives, it’s not actually there.
My experience as an indigenous artist in the city has been pretty low-key. I tend to keep to myself and find work through referrals. I haven’t put myself out there much, but I do get the occasional email request from a non-Indigenous producer hoping to create Indigenous-focused content… and they’re looking to me for approval or feedback. I always reply, “Let Indigenous folks tell their own stories. You can still have Indigenous people in your story (and you should) but maybe, let it be about your own experience and positionality/relation to colonization and capitalism”. We’re approaching an era where speaking for others is a dated approach, I am hopeful that we’ll all be on that same wave-length soon.
Check out “Indian Love – an experimental video, below. For more of Jamie’s work, check out her Vimeo.