October 27, 2014 (Winnipeg, Manitoba) — When brother/sister filmmaking team Janelle and Jérémie Wookey were enlisted by producer Jocelyn Mitchell to make a film that would give Manitoba’s ‘forgotten’ flood evacuees a voice, they did it so well that the documentary is starting to win awards.
Treading Water: Plight of the Manitoba First Nation Flood Evacuees won Best Short Documentary at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival this month, and Janelle Wookey hopes the award will help keep attention on the story of the flood evacuees – who still remain displaced from their homes.
“Having the opportunity to give evacuees a voice and a chance to share their side of the story, which we felt was forgotten, was very important to us,” says Janelle Wookey. “While we are thrilled and honoured to receive the award this weekend, the most satisfying thing was seeing a real response to the film’s ‘call to action’. One woman approached us at the end of the screening in tears asking if there was anything she could do to help evacuees. I can’t tell you how touched we were by this gesture.”
“We are deeply grateful for the courage the evacuees had to share their stories, honoured by the trust they have instilled in us as the messengers, and look forward to getting their voices heard through as many screenings as we can get.”
Treading Water aired on APTN this past May and on CBC Television in August. The screening in Toronto on October 24 was the documentary’s first festival screening. Treading Water was produced as part of APTN’s Emerging Aboriginal Filmmaker program.
Click here to view a trailer for the documentary.
ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY
Treading Water is a deeply intimate and moving look at the unexpected, untold story of the real-life citizens, community and controversy behind the headlines. For three-and-a-half years (and still counting) residents from Manitoba’s Lake St. Martin region have been displaced from their homes. It’s an ongoing saga, with no end in sight. And while mainstream news outlets resurrect the story every time another ‘development’ is announced, it quickly fades away into the background…
In April 2011, Manitoba experienced a 1-in-350-year flood. In an effort to save the City of Winnipeg and other urban centres, unprecedented water levels were intentionally diverted through the Fairford Dam to Lake St. Martin. As a result, First Nation communities in the area were swamped, and 2100 people forced from their homes for what they thought would be just a few weeks. But weeks turned into months. And months stretched into years.
To this day, evacuees remain stranded, drowning in despair and stuck at a standstill, scattered in hotels and temporary housing throughout Winnipeg and Manitoba. They have no homes to go back to, and the displacement has triggered family breakdown, compromised education, stress and depression, and ultimately, increased substance abuse and suicide rates.
The people in the documentary are as frustrated as they are devastated, as they struggle with feelings of isolation, loneliness and dejection. Here are some of their words, taken right from Treading Water:
“We’ve lost more than just houses. Our family structures are being broken down, our community structure is broken down. When you take somebody’s home, you bring devastation to their lives. You take their roots. You take their grounding.”
“They sent a constable here with a piece of paper, telling me I had to go… They cut off water, they cut off septic. We were never given a choice to stay, or a choice to stand and fight. It’s like ‘you gotta go, and you gotta go now.’”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Franco-Métis brother-sister filmmakers Jérémie Wookey and Janelle Wookey are the director/writer team behind Treading Water. Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, they’ve been creating films together since the ages of seven and nine. Their first documentary, Mémére Métisse, premiered on opening night of the 2008 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, and aired on CBC, Radio-Canada and APTN. After seven years of combined professional experience working in news and production at CBC/Radio-Canada, they launched Wookey Films Inc. Treading Water is their first official broadcast co-production.
Jocelyn Mitchell is producer on Treading Water. With over ten years’ experience in the production industry, Jocelyn has produced several hours of broadcast television, including Kyle Riabko: The Lead (BRAVO), The Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards (APTN), and most recently Geekopolis (MTS-TV), which was nominated Best Lifestyle Series at the prestigious Yorkton Film Festival.
Gemini-Award winning producer Jeff Newman is story editor and executive producer on Treading Water. His projects capture unique, compelling qualities that bring his subjects to life, from testing the limits of human endurance on Guinea Pig (Discovery Channel), to the bright lights of Broadway in Kyle Riabko: The Lead (Bravo!), from blood-soaked rinks in Hockey Brawl (CTV), to a wild South American surf adventure in Breakbound (OLN). Jeff recently completed writing and directing his second season of Quest for the Cup, an 8 x 1 hour documentary series for Sportsnet chronicling the OHL’s London Knights.
Treading Water: Plight of the Manitoba First Nation Flood Evacuees was produced in association with the Canada Media Fund (CMF), the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Manitoba Film & Music, the Canadian Film or Video Tax Credit, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).