A scene from Andrew Genaille’s animated short First Impressions, which premiered at ImagineNATIVE Oct. 19. In addition to writing and creating the film, Genaille voiced the dead man, left, in a comedic approach to misogyny. Submitted photo

Hope area creator premieres three animated short films at world’s largest Indigenous film festival

Comedy is central to all the work Andrew Genaille does, and his next feature film is no exception

A Hope filmmaker premiered three of his animated short films at the world’s largest Indigenous film festival last month and he’s barely taking a breath before delving into his latest project, a feature film starring a Caucasian robot who sees himself as Indigenous.

Genaille, who started making films as a student in Hope Secondary School and attended film school on Vancouver Island with a focus on screenwriting, said he began experimenting with animated film due to the dearth of local actors in the Hope area.

“If I lived in Vancouver I could go ‘I want to do this short film’ and there would be like 20-30 people within two blocks of me. There isn’t that access out here,” said the filmmaker, who lives on Peters Band, 20 kilometres outside of Hope.

For those who are not familiar with animated film, Genaille’s style could be described as something akin to a very realistic video game or as Genaille jokes, a ‘low form of what Pixar does’. He uses a program called iClone 7, which allows creators to do everything from motion capture to facial animation.

“As a writer you literally go ‘oh, wait, I have an idea’ and you kind of want to do your short films as quickly as you can. It allows me to do that, so I can write something and then have a short film done within four or five days,” said the prolific writer, who also likes the control he has with animation compared to a live action shoot.

Genaille has kept working with animation as he likes the control it gives him, not having to worry about the lighting, actors or the myriad other factors at a film shoot.

Three of his animated shorts — First Impressions, The National Interest and Grandfather on the Prairies — premiered at a showcase called the Witching Hour on Oct. 19 at ImagineNATIVE, the world’s largest Indigenous film festival.

Genaille, who writes, creates and also acts in many of his short films, approaches what are often serious subjects with humor, to which the audience responds with ‘laughter, but in a good way’ he said.

The three shorts are no exception. The idea for First Impressions came about after a discussion he had with his friend Leila Asdal Danielsen about misogyny. The discussion morphed into a concept where a zombie can hit on a woman, and still make himself out to be the victim in a situation where his advances are so obviously unwanted.

“If you put funny into something that’s dark, people can laugh about it but at the same time, they can absorb it better. If you’re just tackling something dark, you don’t really want to watch it,” he said.

Genaille’s own life story, and moments of everyday comedy, become subjects for his films. Grandfather on the Prairies, a story with humor, culture and history all intermingled into a conversation between a young man with a cat on his shoulder and his great, great, great grandfather in a prairie field.

The seed of the story began with Genaille’s mother’s cat, which has a habit of jumping on his shoulder and resting there. Genaille decided he wanted to digitally scan the cat into a film.

Then he and his brother had a funny conversation about the Ojibwe custom of carrying their hunting dogs on their shoulders, which then became the subject of the conversation in the film. Genaille’s father is from Saskatchewan, his mother is from B.C.

RELATED: Documentarist examines Indigenous identity in courageous new film

In The National Interest, Genaille does the voice for a robot and a pro-pipeline protester who is railing against the automation in the Alberta oil industry.“I’m arguing against myself. It gets confusing,” he said. “You’re literally listening to your own voice coming back at you, arguing.”

With the ImagineNATIVE premiere behind him, Genaille is not stopping for a rest. He is busy finishing a script for Android Privilege, a film which has already piqued the interest of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and a big name actor. 

Genaille’s friend Eric Johnson heard about the storyline, a Caucasian robot programmed by First Nations people to love bannock and fishing with a view of himself as Indigenous, and jumped at the idea of playing the robot.

“I was telling his wife about the idea and they came back at me going ‘Eric wants to play the white guy’,” Genaille laughed. “At that point I was literally only on Page 15.”

Johnson made his debut with a role in the 1994 historical drama Legends of the Fall and has other impressive credentials including Smallville, the Fifty Shades series and a role in the upcoming season six of Vikings.

The story, which Genaille said has many ‘laugh out loud funny’ moments, also delves into serious subject matter including illness, family drama and community.

It is part of Genaille’s mission to approach the subject of family through comedy, something he sees a lack of in most contemporary Indigenous film.

Take aunties laughing as an example.

“I was in Chilliwack, I took my mom to dinner, and the table next to us was all these First Nations sisters in their 50s. And we didn’t think they actually said anything. They were just laughing and one laughing set the other off,” he said. He mentioned this moment to Jesse Wente, the director of the Indigenous Screen Office, and Wente replied that this is something you see all across Canada. “And I’m like yeah, how come you’ve never seen that in a movie? A giggle fest. And we went yeah, that’s what we need.”

Genaille is also a writer of two feature films — Johnny Tootall and Two Indians Talking, which won the audience award at the Vancouver International Film Festival — as well as a range of TV series and short films. He is also an author of short stories and novels, including The Chief and Her Sister, Hunting Indians and Tales from Indian Country: The Apple.

RELATED: Sir Perphoulous Films

The three shorts are produced through the production company Sir Perphoulous Films, where creating film is a family affair together with his sister Lisa and his brother Robert, both with the same last name. Lisa also produced The National Interest.

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A scene from Genaille’s animated short Grandfather on the Prairies, which gets its inspiration partially from a conversation between Genaille and his brother, a traditional Ojibwe hunting method and his mother’s cat. Submitted photo

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