There has never been a better time for indigenous people to tell their own stories — this is a sentiment that Tuscarora filmmaker Jonathan Elliott understood well when he ventured to capture a film he titled Her Water Drum.
The film deals with the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada, highlighting the impact that it has on individual families and their communities, something Elliott strove for.
“Using film, as not only an education tool, but as something to tell stories through is so important,” said Elliott, as he began to explain the topic of his film.
“It’s pretty hard to avoid the topic off Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, and it is something that has been on my mind for a while because there’s so much stuff that you see in travelling around.”
By travelling throughout Canada, Elliott said that he came across many people that shared stories of how a loved on was lost or murdered, and the stories “began to strike home.”
“While there’s a lot of news coverage of the issues, it’s kind of just letting it stay in the news and I felt like there were opportunities to use film as an introduction and educational conversation starter tool to an audience who maybe otherwise learn about it, or know about it.”
Thus the storyline was born.
The film brings the tale of Jolene, a single Mohawk mother in the wake of her daughters disappearance to life. He story continues as she is forced to pick up the pieces of her life and navigate an increasingly strenuous relationship with her troubled son David. As secrets emerge, their relationship faces its toughest challenge yet as they confront the reality of their situation.
Elliott said that this fictional story is one that is timely and is an accumulation of communal opinion, as he reached out to family and community members to help enrich the storyline with their ideas.
“I took those commonalities and used them as a basis as a script,” he said. “But when you’re making a short it’s very hard to compress everything into a 10-15 clip.”
He explained that the concept of the title came from the significance of traditional singing to the characters, as the water drum is used by the family to teach songs. The significance of the water drum to Haudenosaunee culture is that it is the only drum of its kind in the world and has been used to sing Esganye which is a series of songs sung by men to honour the women.
“The water drum just had a lot of significance for everybody in the film and it kind of ties into the relationship the mother has with her son because her daughter was teaching her son certain songs.”
“This object was the last thing that they could hold onto that was distinctly hers.”
The screening will take place on January 15 at 7 p.m., within the Laurier Campus at the Wilfred Laurier Research and Academic Centre, 150 Dalhousie St, Brantford location and is hosted by Friends & Neighbours of Save the Evidence.
Elliott said that he will attend the screening with others involved in the production of the film to answer questions and offer more information about it.
More about Elliott:
Since attending York University’s Film Production program, Elliott has worked as a director and cinematographer on a variety of projects, including: Along the Water’s Edge (Taking it Global funded film) Even in the Silence (Voices with Impact funded short film, entirely in the Mohawk language), Taken Home (Toronto Arts Council funded film), Her Water Drum (imagineNATIVE commissioned film), Wild Archaeology (APTN TV series), This Wild Season (imagineNATIVE 2017 film festival), and Blood Child (Blood in the Snow film festival).
Jonathan’s award-winning work has been nationally broadcast on TV and screened at various film festivals internationally in New Zealand, Italy, Germany, London, the United States and Canada. Some of these festivals include: imagineNATIVE, LA Skins Festival, Red Nation International Film Festival, Maoriland Film Festival, Art With Impact, etc. His body of work focuses on telling contemporary Indigenous stories that explores individuals complex relationships to their cultural identity, families and communities.
Elliott was the 2018 artist-in-residence for the imagineNATIVE/CSV development program. He was selected as one of the Emerging 20 artists at the 2018 Reel World Film Festival and has been the recipient of grants through the Toronto Arts Council, imagineNATIVE, Taking it Global and Art With Impact to produce his work.
Currently, he is in development on several projects, including his first feature film.