New grant for Indigenous filmmakers launched in honour of Jeff Barnaby

TORONTO — Sarah Del Seronde is a big believer in interrogating the word “legacy,” particularly as it relates to her late husband, the filmmaker Jeff Barnaby.

Seronde, who is also a filmmaker, said it feels strange to switch from being Barnaby’s partner to talking about the impact of his work now that he’s gone.

“His work is still continuing, so I guess the word legacy feels finite,” she said.

Before his death in October, the 46-year-old had an outsized influence on Indigenous storytelling — and Seronde said that part of his work is ongoing.

Barnaby wrote, directed and edited the drama “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” and the zombie film “Blood Quantum.”

Netflix and imagineNATIVE on Thursday announced the Jeff Barnaby Grant in honour of his contributions to Indigenous narrative sovereignty, genre film, and Canadian cinema.

Five Indigenous film and television creatives across Canada with productions at any stage in the horror, thriller and futurism genre will each receive $25,000 to support their projects.

The money comes from Netflix, while imagineNATIVE will co-ordinate the application, jury and selection process.

Seronde is among the jury that will select the recipients, alongside actress and writer Devery Jacobs and director and screenwriter Danis Goulet.

Before his death, Barnaby was one of the inaugural participants in the Advancing Voices: Netflix Canada Creator Program, an initiative for fostering the growth of under-represented storytellers.

Seronde said Barnaby, who had cancer for a year before his death, never got to finish his project once “he went into the hospital and never left.”

She said Netflix approached her with the idea for the grant after she sought them to discuss if they would take a look at the final version of his unfinished script, which Netflix says they haven’t yet received but they’re still open to discussing.

“I was floored by it — that the idea would honour his work,” Seronde said. “I think it’s probably the most flattering way a filmmaker can push forward their memory, by helping other filmmakers.”

Seronde adds this sort of grant represents the kind of opportunity that her husband rarely received, despite his drive.

“Other filmmakers would have taken a softer approach to storytelling, but that wasn’t him. He did it with both the joys and the sorrows,” said Seronde.

She said those two halves were part of why she cherished Barnaby. While he grappled with heavy topics in his work, his playful side would come out as they watched “Jeopardy” together or had the occasional Samurai film night.

“It was such a pleasure to spend time with him just in the way that we would interact, and it’s the exact opposite of what he put up on the screen; we were at peace, and he was funny and emotionally complex.”

Tara Woodbury, Netflix manager of Canada series, wouldn’t say whether the grant recipients would see their projects distributed on Netflix. She said the company’s immediate intention was to foster a class of creativity that was in the spirit of Barnaby.

“We haven’t really restricted how they choose to spend the grant, if they want to buy writing time, or support a child through the process _ it’s really up to them in how they want to advance their storytelling,” said Woodbury. “What was important to us was that it was in line with Jeff’s legacy.”

Jury member Goulet, a film director whose debut sci-fi film “Night Raiders” premiered in 2021, remembers how a 2004 screening of Barnaby’s debut short, “From Cherry English,” blew her away.

Barnaby’s impactful career began with several shorts, all dedicated to highlighting Indigenous perspectives through multiple genres, while his later, lengthier films would carry the same torch, urgently confronting Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.

“He was not afraid to say something from the heart, with honesty, whether people were ready to hear it or not, and to me, that is always coming from a place of love,” said Goulet, the Saskatchewan-raised Cree/Metis filmmaker who got to know Barnaby better over the years.

“He loved us so much that he wanted to show us nothing but the truth. He was talking about things that were not on people’s radar in the public consciousness at the time — like residential schools, which of course, we know, now that the truth has been exposed.”

When imagineNATIVE reached out to her about the grant, Goulet said, she found it fitting in the name of everything Barnaby stood for: the freedom to create and have a voice without restrictions.

“I remember how I felt when I got my first grant as a filmmaker from an arts council. I cried. There was something about it that said you’re real and that your story has value,” said Goulet. “That’s what we need to be saying to this generation of creatives, that you matter.”

Jamie-Lee Reardon, institute manager at imagineNATIVE, said this is one of the first grants that the organization is putting out open applications for.

“This was less of a reality and more of a dream when I was younger, and now we’re seeing it actualized,” Readon said. “I think we’re just at the very beginning of getting to see the amazing stories that Indigenous creatives have to tell.”

The application process will launch Friday, Jan. 27 on the imagineNATIVE website. The grant will be open to all First Nations, Inuit, or Metis film and television creatives located in Canada.

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