In celebration of Indigenous storytelling, the Weengushk International Film Festival brings unfiltered voices to the silver screen and a global platform. This year, Dr. Scott Henderson, dean and head of Trent University Durham GTA, received the festival’s Spirit Award–an honour that fittingly reflects his work and dedication to agency. In addition to his leadership role at Trent Durham, Dr. Henderson teaches media studies and interdisciplinary studies that emphasize human rights, social and political issues –values that align with the heart of the film festival.
“It’s really humbling,” states Dr. Henderson who previously served as chair of the festival’s board. “There is a dedicated team who does this wonderful work to boost Indigenous youth and passion. I absolutely believe in them.”
Indigenous storytelling in the spotlight
“The festival will allow people to see incredible films, learn about Indigenous histories and perspectives, and hear voices that may not come through their regular streaming channels,” affirms Dr. Henderson. “It’s also amazing to see young people engage with those who have gone onto global success.”
Held virtually this summer on Manitoulin Island, the event unites new and experienced filmmakers in the industry through supportive community and camaraderie.
The Trent connection
Dr. Henderson became involved with the festival after meeting dedicated film students from the associated Weengushk Film Institute, a school that gives Indigenous youth opportunities to find their voice, understand their stories, and develop ways to tell them.
He witnesses similar engagement at Trent Durham through the way that students explore their passions and discover their voice in creative and thoughtful ways.
“That intersection is very much in line with what happens at Trent and the way in which Indigenous Studies has become a fabric of the Trent University experience,” reflects Dr. Henderson. “We say to our students, ‘Bring your knowledge, perspectives, identities and ideas to class. Let’s share them and contextualize them.’”
Dr. Henderson feels that is a big part of his role at Trent Durham through uplifting young voices to be heard and make a difference.
“I bring that commitment to Indigenization to the table, in part through work with Weengushk and by recognizing that there is so much scope to find ways for Indigenous students to contribute to the community. There is so much more to learn.”
Speaking for yourself
Whether writing about LGBTQ+ films, local music scenes or punk comic books, the award also reflects Dr. Henderson’s work in other areas. He often examines how marginalized voices can be misrepresented through pop culture text.
“I wanted to consider why having a voice is important and how one can use media to speak and to give one’s own agency and articulation.”
In turn, he feels that it is imperative to support initiatives that enable young people to share their stories.
“That goes back to the research of agency which is really about having your own voice heard and being able to speak for yourself.”
“The festival gets people to contextualize these voices,” said Dr. Henderson who hopes to bring a group from Trent to next year’s event.
Referring to the aspiring filmmakers, he adds, “To experience an audience cheering at the end of your film, is absolutely spine-tingling empowering.”