Read the original article by Jamie-Lee McKenzie at: ANISHNABEK NEWS
ESPANOLA – During the first week of August 2015, filming began for what is being called the first-ever First Nations zombie thriller movie, titled REZilience.
During the four-day shoot in Espanola the 20 minute proof of concept was filmed. Creator and director Jayson Stewart will pitch the proof to producers in hopes of making REZilience a feature-length film.
The majority of the cast and crew are First Nations from Sagamok Anishnawbek, Whitefish River, Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, Chippewas of Rama and Teme-Augama Anishinabe. Sagamok Anishnawbek is also the primary producer of the film. “We have worked hard for this to not be a cultural appropriation project and have consulted with elders, community leaders, Chiefs, educators and activists,” says Stewart.
Cassandra Robinson from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, is the second director of the film. She became connected to the film after hearing Stewart’s interview about REZilience with CBC in December 2014.
“I wanted to help make this film come to life in a freaky and fun way, I think it’s definitely going to grow into something gory and glorified,” laughed Robinson. Robinson was also a zombie in the film and feels that this film will help people understand First Nations culture better. “It’s going to help raise more awareness about our culture and image, in a really good way, and I think we are making the right steps to make that magic happen,” says Robinson.
The film discusses many political issues and the history of colonization of First Nations people. “This is a story that has power and it talks about colonization and the weaponization of, in this case it’s the weaponization of a zombie virus, but it’s indicative of how diseases were used in early colonization as a tool of oppression.
With stories about the loss of language and loss of identity,” claims Stewart. “We also have connections to the earth, power of the medicines, and the power of the drum.”
The majority of the cast and crew are unpaid volunteers who just wanted the chance to work on a project like this. Many of the cast and crew came together through word of mouth and wanted the chance to work on a film that discusses issues that many First Nations people feel are important. Remington Louie from Lower Kootenay First Nation in British Columbia was cast as the main character in REZilience. Louie contacted Stewart with his interest in being a part of the film after seeing what the film was about.
“The movie has a great political view that I think that everyone should hear, even if they don’t relate to it, it’s still cool, it’s a zombie movie,” laughed Louie. “Everybody here is great to work with, it’s been a great time, and it’s just been a fantastic experience.”
Bruno Henry who is originally from Six Nations, but now lives in Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve became connected to the film through his son, who is doing makeup for the film. He believes that this is an important story that needs to be told. “It’s about time we see some Native culture in a zombie movie and I’m really excited to be a part of it, it’s amazing,” says Henry.
Once a producer is found to fund the project, Stewart plans to film the feature length film in the summer of 2016. The primary photography will be in Sagamok Anishnawbek .
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“It’s been wild!” he said.
Like most events or productions bumps and hiccups occur, which Stewart said had happened with last minute drop outs. However, the film gods were in favour of Stewart and all vacant spots were filled.
“Fake it until you make it,” he joked as he prepared dinner for his crew. “Working with people who know what they are doing on the same set as people who have no clue is a challenge. But at the same time it affords you a lot of training opportunities.”
Filming had taken longer than he anticipated, saying it was due to losing key people in the grip and gaffer (lighting and electrical).
The loss lead to crew members taking up more responsibility on set. He had joked that you wouldn’t normally see a producer making food, or his camera operator looking after the lighting.
“Lighting has taken up most of our time,” he explained. “With it being night shots, there is a lot to light and (there) is no natural light out here.”
Stewart commended his crew, saying they have been incredible and pulled beyond their weight.
Tents and trailers were on set, which provided some sleeping arrangements for cast and crew.
Remington Louie, the lead actor from Winnipeg, had spent the night before in a trailer on the airfield.
“The country side is gorgeous,” said Louie. “I don’t know if you been to Winnipeg, (but) it doesn’t look like this.”
Louie, who just finished filming Road of Iniquity, wasn’t the first actor cast as the character Dwayne, but fate intervened when the first actor had to drop out, and Stewart contacted him four weeks ago.
“He contacted me about coming out here because something happened,” Louie explained. “It was short notice, but here I am today.”
Louie said the script and the concept of the story are “awesome.”
“The metaphors he is trying to incorporate into it is fantastic,” he said.
Lending a hand for the film were some experts who shared their knowledge and skills to create a realistic short film.
Eddie Jeanveau spent the week creating authentic sounds for the film. For example, he recorded the zombies making sounds so the actors voices were in the film rather than a stock sound.
While Stewart worked on getting dinner ready, Patrick Gervais was on site preparing to make the scene gory with special effects. Chantelle Bowerman and Alysia Topol were two of the creative masterminds responsible for transforming the actors into the walking dead.
The Espanola Flying Club allowed Stewart to find the location shot in “his backyard.”
He said the location is prime for filming as there had been no disturbances throughout the processes.
Once filming wrapped up early Saturday morning, it was time for Stewart to take a break from REZilience.
“I’m taking August off for my family,” he said, adding they had come out to visit him on set.
The next project he works on will be a more private one as he celebrates his anniversary with his wife.
Come September, he will be back in the arms of REZilience to finish the post-production of the film. Afterwards, he plans to shop the short film around to gauge interest and hopes to set up a public viewing.
If you live in the Espanola or Massey area and see what look like zombies, don’t panic. Shooting is now underway for REZilience and scenes are being shot in both communities. Director Jayson Stewart of Massey says the busiest day is this Friday because that features all out zombie attack scenes meaning everyone is on site. The film is unique among the zombie genre because it’s the first zombie film in Canada to feature a large number of Indigenous people.
Photo credit: Supplied
Read the original article at THE MIDNORTH MONITOR.
The cast and crew of REZilience have reached their goal.
It was official on July 23, when the final funding came in. The majority of funding being donated by Sagamok First Nation, which has developed a partnership with Jayson Stewart for the filming of his first movie.
But a surprise donation of $2,500 came from actor Gary Sundown, after Stewart took to social media to peak interest and raise funding for his film.
While the funding goal had been reached, it did not stop Stewart from continuing to surpass the minimum amount, but rather shoot for a bigger budget. He did so by holding a Day of the Undead in Massey.
Under a scorching summer sun, Stewart was joined by his family and cast members to get bloodied up and scrub some cars.
“We’ve been busy,” he said, adding he was worried that the threat of rain would have caused issues.
Drivers had the option of two types of car washes. One was a regular soap and water wash down. The second a bloody attack from the zombies, who after making a mess, would later wash it up to new looking.
Attached to the car wash was a small yard sale located on the sidewalk beside Highway 17. That night was a spaghetti dinner and showing of the 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead.
“It was an incredible day,” Stewart said after the events. “Even though we were worried about the weather, everything turned out well and the community came out to support what we hope to be the first annual Massey day of the undead.”
He added there are plans in the works for next year’s day of the undead, with the hopes of a larger festival in the future.
“We lost track of the number of cars we washed. (We) sold a lot of stuff in our yard sale, served many plates of spaghetti and, though we didn’t have many people out for the film, those that were there enjoyed the (movie).”
The zombies washing the cars were Stewart’s five children who were joined by a few cast members.
Massey’s Beth Cassidy has a small part in the film, playing “two-by-four zombie.”
“I get beaten with a two-by-four,” she laughed when explaining her nickname. “This is my chance to be a stunt woman.”
Cassidy was a drama major and to this day still performs as a singer and actor. She said she had a small role on YTV’s Dark Oracle, but most of her performance are done on stage.
As to what she thinks of the film being made by Stewart she summed it up in one word.
“Brilliant. It is very creative and it fits the area that we live in.”
In total, the day raised just shy of $600 for the film project.
Filming begins Aug. 4, and until then Stewart, cast and crew will be in the planning stage.
“I am getting the final confirmation from all of our background zombies, purchasing last minute equipment, signing rental contracts, doing newspaper and radio pieces, final tuning of the script and work with the talent.”
Donations are still welcomed as there may be unexpected costs that come up in the future.
“I would like to support my cast and crew with special perks. As a thank you for their commitments and volunteering of their time.”
An online art auction is still being held for the next couple of weeks with new pieces added. While the online campaign has come to an end, donations can be made through the REZilience website at: www.judgementfilms.com.
At the cold, undead heart of REZilience is a social conscience.
Jayson Stewart is director of what's billed as the first ever First Nations zombie movie, a feature about a handful of survivors trying to escape an outbreak, caused by an evil corporation, at a fly-in reserve up north.
REZilience will deliver more than enough guts and gore to satisfy fans of the genre, Stewart said, as well as a strong socio-political message.
"For those who like action, there's going to be a lot of action, for those who like zombie movies, yes, there will be gore, and for those who like character-driven films, you get very invested in these four characters and in wanting them to survive and to pass on this knowledge as they uncover it, so there's also the thriller side of it, too," said Stewart, a schoolteacher and head of Lapse in Judgement Films, which begins shooting a proof-of-concept in the Massey area next month.
"But the big thing is it's also a political story, too. There are many layers to the story, even something as simple as the villain's name, Duncan Scott, who is the CEO of the DCS Group."
That's a reference to Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada's first Indian Affairs minister, who in his day advocated for the assimilation of First Nations peoples.
"The was one of the main authors of the Indian Act, which is seen worldwide as a racist piece of legislation that needs major, major work, if not dismantling entirely," Stewart said. "So we're hitting on those issues of colonization, of poverty, of loss of identity, but also the beauty and power of indigenous culture to be resilient, for language to come back and for culture to be something that shouldn't be shunned or hidden, but should be celebrated, and in this case, there's a twist where that culture actually saves their lives."
Stewart came up with the idea a few years ago, "when a writer friend and I were just bantering back and forth, throwing out as many crazy story ideas as possible.
"We never thought we'd pick up on one that could actually be worked on."
But he eventually got serious about the story and on Aug. 4, he'll join the cast and crew to film the proof-of-concept – roughly, the first 20 minutes of the film – at the Massey airfield and other locations in the area.
"We hope to market this to producers who would pay big bucks for the whole feature," Stewart said. "Our thought on that, too, was even if we didn't get a producer interested in the whole piece, maybe we could do it as an online serial, which is becoming more and more popular, or like a miniseries-type of idea, but I think there's going to be enough interest here that we will be able to do a full feature."
Much of the film will take place in the fictional community of Serpent Lake, home to about 350 people and unfortunately, chosen by DCS as an ideal test location for a biological weapon meant to neutralize a large population by paralysing and knocking them unconscious for a period of time.
While the corporation has tested the weapon at other out-of-the-way locales, such as villages in the Congo or Latin America, its effectiveness in colder climates is unproven – hence the focus on Serpent Lake.
"What they don't realize is there's something about First Nations DNA that is susceptible to this pathogen and it paralyses them and knocks them unconscious, but the paralysis goes deeper and it paralyzes the heart and lungs, which they had never seen anywhere else," Stewart said. "And beyond that, it actually brings them back from the dead.
"Now, you have a population that's almost entirely zombified in a contained area, a far Northern reserve, surrounded by hundreds of miles of rugged bushland to get to the nearest community. There's no communication in and out, because they had paid someone internally to sabotage the only communication system they had."
It's in that situation that the lead character, Dwayne Peltier, played by 27-year-old Winnipeger Remington Louie, and aging bush pilot Victor (Doc) Murdoch, portrayed by Sudburian Douglas Davidson, find themselves at the start of the story.
Yet to be cast as major characters are a strong, young First Nations woman who has been away for medical training, a police officer steeped in traditional culture, and his brother, a local thug and drug dealer who "is an antagonist, a villain at first, but you'll grow to love him."
Most actors in the film, including the zombies themselves, are Aboriginal.
Stewart is not of First Nations heritage himself and admitted to initial fears he would be charged with cultural appropriation.
"I'm very cognizant and aware and respectful of that," he said. "Fortunately, I have brought on so many people who are Chippewa and Mohawk and Ojibwe and Cree and Kootenay, so I could rely on them and if ever it seemed like I was going astray or had a lens that wasn't respectful, that they would rein me in. And fortunately, they haven't had to do that, because maybe it's just in my DNA to be respectful and celebratory of all the people involved."
In fact, the biggest donor to the project so far has been the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, located near Massey.
"They came forward with a $10,000 contribution, so that makes them one of our producers," Stewart said. "Not only did they love the concept and the story and they loved the number of their own community members who are part of it enough to give 10 grand, but just their support of it, legitimizes it. Any worries I had about cultural appropriation were kind of erased when they gave their stamp of approval."
For more information, visit www.judgementfilms.com.
Read the MANITOULIN EXPOSITOR article!
All of the actors for the four main characters have been cast, including the lead character Dwayne Peltier played by 27-year-old actor Remington Louie and his mentor Vic ‘Doc’ Murdoch, played by actor Douglas E. Davidson.
Although the movie is in the horror film genre, the film is far from being one-dimensional. “It is common for good horror, science fiction and fantasy films to comment on social justice issues,” he said. “In the original Star Trek, race relations, the civil rights movement, oppression and privilege were woven into scenes featuring green skinned aliens and phaser battles.”
The film location is the fictional small fly-in Northern village of Serpent Lake, a community of 350 souls whose only contact with the outside world is by float plane or a seasonal ice road. “The ice road has not been open for very long in recent years because of the impact of global warming,” noted Mr. Stewart, citing just one of the modern commentaries layered within the production.
The characters are also more multi-dimensional and contain a depth not common to the zombie flick cadre. “There are different types of people, including a strong female lead and a character who follows a strong traditional Native path,” he said. There is also a two-spirited main character. “So there is the LGTB tie-in as well.” Most of the characters are under 30.
“In our film, REZilience, the character Dwayne Peltier, taken from his home reserve by the foster care system, returns and discovers who he is and how his community has been affected by residential schools, genocide, treaty violations, poverty and loss of culture,” said Mr. Stewart. “In fact, the zombies in the film are a result of a biological weapon tested on the people the same way smallpox was weaponized during early colonization of North America.”
So the film broaches many important subjects, but includes a lot of the nuances favoured by the zombie/horror set.
“In essence, we are broaching these important subjects as the characters discover who they are throughout the film,” said Mr. Stewart. “They use this knowledge and sense of self to survive and thrive. Their strength comes from their history and their discovery and rediscovery of who they are.” Mr. Stewart explains that the zombies are a “mixed metaphor for people who have lost their way, lost their connection to what’s important, of the infighting that can happen in communities, and our heroes represent those who are rising against oppression, against historical and modern acts of genocide and are taking their traditions into the future as powerful leaders in the community.”
So why zombies?
“We could have done this story without it being a zombie film but I’m a zombie fan and, if it makes other horror fans think a little, then we’ve done our job,” laughed Mr. Stewart. “It opens these stories to a fanbase who might otherwise tune out of a story about Natives.”
Mr. Stewart is proud of the fact that his is not only the first Canadian zombie movie, “it is also the first in North America.” He points out that while there is another zombie flick with zombies, that film is a comedy, not a true horror film.
Dealing with issues such as the residential school system call for a more dramatic approach, but Mr. Stewart said that he is sensitive to the delicacy of the topic. “I can understand the sensitivity some feel and have full respect to all survivors, their families and those impacted by the system, racism and oppression,” he said. But adds that “the film isn’t about residential schools, it mentions them as one of the many issues that are affecting indigenous nations today. At no point will there be a mockery made of any issue. No issue will be made light of, in fact, the opposite is true and the issues will be woven into the story with the utmost respect.”
The project crew are primarily volunteer, at this point, but Mr. Stewart notes that there are three key people who are paid staff. “Although they are being paid, it is largely for their equipment,” he added.
Mr. Stewart hopes to have the film ready for the spring of 2017, just in time for the festival circuit.
Massey - you’re probably used to hearing about dinner and a theatre performance paired together, but what about a car wash and a show?
It’s a twist that Jayson Stewart and his team put together as a fundraiser for his Indigenous film titled REZilience (previously known as The Darkest Dawn).
For $5 you can have a sparkling clean car, or for a little more you get a performance you wouldn’t normally see at a car wash.
“For $10 you are asked to prepare your cameras because zombies will attack your vehicle, smearing blood over the windows before pausing, shaking off their rage and cleaning up the mess and your car,” explained Stewart.
Don’t worry, it is not real blood that the zombie’s will be using on the vehicles. Stewart opted for the washable, non-staining stage blood like substances made from dish detergent, creamy sugar-free peanut butter, sugar-free chocolate syrup and washable poster paint.
Stewart said he confirmed 10 zombies willing to participate, however he is looking for double to triple the number to come out for the day.
“We need 20 to 40 native zombies for the movie and five zombies of any heritage for the car wash,” he said.
Stewart’s film is an Indigenous-based cast, and he wants the day event to represent the genre of the movie.
While you’re car is getting washed or attacked, you can browse the yard sale held in conjunction. Both run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CJ Auto located on 210 Sables (Highway 17) in Massey.
The day doesn’t end at a freshly washed car. Stewart has prepared a day of zombie theme events with the help of neighbours.
“The residents have been very excited about the movie, and even non-zombie fans are excited,” Stewart said. “The owner of Inspired Creations Cafe won’t watch any horror film, but supports the arts and had offered full and free use of her cafe after hours for our spaghetti supper and movie night.”
The price of admission, $10 for adults and $5 for children under eight years, covers the spaghetti dinner and the screening of the 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. An extra $5 will buy you popcorn to snack on or spill over yourself when you jump at the scary parts of the film.
Massey’s Day of the Undead takes place on July 25.
Stewart and his film team, made up of 60 people, struggled with the new name after their original was unusable.
“I made a first-time director’s mistake of not registering the name with the Writer’s Guild,” adding that a project in the United States claimed the name. “We racked our brains as a team and ended up (with) nothing we liked or (that) was available. Late one night, I searched for words that started with REZ I found “resilience” and REZilience was born.”
The REZilience team has been fundraising throughout the year, and came up with original ideas aside from the Day of the Undead. An online art auction was used to raise money off Stewart’s artwork.
Stewart and his team were aiming to raise $15,000 for filming the movie. He is hoping they will raise the $500 needed at the Saturday event.
They received $2,000 in private donations, more than $1,300 has been collected on their online fundraising page on Indigogo and Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation’s donation brought them even closer to their goal.
“Two days ago, I had a meeting with Chief Paul Eshkakogan and council, and they donated 67% ($10,000) of what we need in exchange for producer credits and help in establishing an arts program in Sagamok,” said Stewart. “Sagamok council is exceptionally happy with the plot and they are excited about funding the project. Having the Sagamok community fund and endorse it legitimizes what we are doing and is a huge moral boost.”
Stewart said filming the zombie scene for REZilience beginning Aug. 7.
For more on the movie or ways to donate money, visit: www.judgementfilms.com.