SUE ENBERG’S FILM “IN JESUS’ NAME” IS THE CLOSING NIGHT FILM AT THE REELWORLD FILM FESTIVAL
ABOUT IN JESUS’ NAME: Shattering the Silence of St. Anne’s Residential School is a poignant all-indigenous English and Cree-English collaborative documentary film that breaks long-held silences imposed upon indigenous children who were interned at the notoriously violent St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario.
What was the inspiration for your film?
Around 2000 or 2001, I had been commissioned by a non-profit organization to write a children’s social activism curriculum for Grade 6 students. I had been self-directed the entire way through. However, when it came time to write the Indigenous chapter, I told the founders of the organization that I would be writing age-appropriate material on residential schools in Canada. Their response was, that if I was to write that chapter, the Canadian government would do everything in its power to squash the entire publication. To me, this response has compelled me throughout my years at university to excavate more deeply into children’s experiences at these institutions.
In the fall of 2014, I continued with my research into Canada’s residential schools. It was at that time that I came across a short online article in CBC Aboriginal about Edmund Metatawabin, his experiences at St. Anne’s Residential School. In that article, I discovered that children who were interned at St. Anne’s had suffered the most horrific forms of abuse as well as torture. I was appalled that the Canadian media has not covered this ‘story’ far more broadly, for a sustained period of time. I was also very disheartened to learn that the Canadian federal government had not called for a public inquiry into the torture of the children.
What were the greatest challanges you faced during the film?
The greatest challenge I have faced as a single parent and student filmmaker has been financial. I was turned down for every legitimate form of arts council funding for the film due to my status as a student. The majority of funding for the film has been paid out of my OSAP and OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarship) funding with one major exception. The office of the former president of Ryerson University, Sheldon Levy, came through with $10,000 for travel funding, permitting my crew and I to travel to the fly-in community of Fort Albany First Nation in August of 2015, a trip that cost about $16,000 in total. We also received some minor donations to assist with production. So, I have somehow managed to pay all of the crew with the exception of myself, Edmund Metatawabin, and our Executive Producer Tim Wolochatiuk, and have managed to cover post-production expenses as well. Our total commitment to getting the word out about the horrific treatment of children at St. Anne’s has propelled us forward despite lack of financial means.
Our Executive Producer, Tim Wolochatiuk, really propelled me to keep moving forward with this film despite the incredible financial weight I was personally carrying. I think he is the only member of our crew that I cried in front of (tearful phone conversation one day, when I was at the breaking point). He reminded me that “filmmaking is very expensive,” especially if you want to produce a powerful film that will reach people. His nudge has brought the film to the point that it is now.
What appeal do you think your film will have for audiences?
This first film is not the film that I originally intended to produce. My original vision was to produce a film that would be far more political, bringing in the stories of the past and the Survivors’ stories of what they are enduring in the courts today. But…in speaking with a number of people over the course of two years, I came to the realization that Canadians, many of them, remain either partially or wholly uniformed about the depth, breadth and severity of abuses at Canada’s residential schools. So, during the summer of 2016, Edmund and I decided that we needed the survivors to share their stories first, without mediation from myself or any others.
It was decided that this film should appeal to a number of distinct audiences for various reasons: non-Indigenous audiences as a pedagogical tool; first generation residential school survivors as a means and a way to encourage them to begin to share their stories, and to embark on healing journeys if they had not done so yet; and for intergenerational survivors who may be hearing these stories – truly hearing them – for the first time. A profound silence has engulfed many Indigenous families for generations, largely due to the stigma associated with sexual abuse.
What inspired you to become a creator?
I am a long-time creator…photography and writing have been some of my crafts for many years. However, I realized that if much of what I have written is delegated to academic journals, then most people in mainstream society would likely not know of otherwise hidden or covert human rights abuses occurring all around the world. So, I decided that a visual aesthetic could add great power to stories of people who have endured grave injustices. The visual aesthetic is also an empathic expression. We hope that people, in viewing our film, with take action toward correcting or shedding further light on current-day injustices that the aging survivors are having to endure.
What are you working on next?
Edmund and I are now co-producing the sequel film that will shed further light on systemic and systematic child abuse at St. Anne’s. This film which will focus far more heavily on obstruction of justice by the Canadian government (and possibly the Catholic diocese), and how the amorality of politics is re-traumatizing St. Anne’s survivors, many of whom are in their seventies and eighties.
What’s the best advice you could give someone new to filmmaking?
My best advice to someone new to documentary filmmaking is to excavate deeply (research a ton), show great respect those who are sharing their stories, be cautious in your interviewing methods so as to minimize harm, and adopt tenacity as your highest professional objective. If the story that needs to be told is important, never give up.
What are your top 3 favourite films of all time?
My three favourite films of all time are: The Atomic Café, Avatar and Thin Blue Line.
If you had to describe your film in three words, what would they be?
Poignant, empathic, provocative.
If you could reshoot any film made in the past 20 years, which one would you choose and how would you change it?
I think if there is one film that needs to be re-shot or parodied it is Of the North. This ‘documentary’ montage by Dominic Gagnon is so insulting, not only to the Inuit people, but to Canada’s Indigenous communities as a whole. I have often thought that I would like to do a film that would wholly contest and de-construct Gagnon’s negative portrayals of the Inuit people.
Who are your mentors? (and why)
I have many mentors. The St. Anne’s survivors who have shown immeasurable courage and strength. Grandmother (Elder) Pauline Shirt for guiding my feet all along the way. My first professor at the University of Toronto, now the Vice-principal and Registrar at U of T’s Woodsworth College, Cheryl Shook. She really helped me to understand that my perspectives on human rights should be shared with the world. Lise MacRae, my boss when I worked at CHUM Television. She put a lot of faith in my abilities as a middle-manager as a human being more generally. My graduate advisors at Ryerson University – Ed Slopek, Elida Schogt, and Gerda Cammaer – all of whom helped to guide my feet in the production of this film. And, the lawyers who continue to fight for justice on behalf on the St. Anne’s survivors – Fay Brunning, Suzanne DesRosiers and Michael Swinwood. And…no less importantly…Indigenous advocate, Linda Lundström, who has been one of my biggest psychological supporters right from the beginning.
SUE ENBERG’S BIO:
Susan G. Enberg has an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies from the University of Toronto (with high distinction and on the Dean’s List), and has recently earned a graduate degree, Master of Fine Arts (with distinction) in Documentary Media from Ryerson University. Susan has been awarded numerous scholarships for high academic achievement and for her social justice activities.
Susan is an independent documentary film director, producer, editor and photographer who recently launched her own production company, Susan G. Enberg Productions. Her first film, In Jesus’Name: Shattering the Silence of St. Anne’s Residential School, was co-produced with Edmund Metatawabin during her studies at Ryerson University. Prior to this, Susan had never directed, produced or edited any film projects.
She is currently directing, producing and editing a second film with Edmund Metatawabin as co-producer. The sequel film will shed further light on abuses suffered by Indigenous children who were interned at St. Anne’s Residential School; this film will then delve far more deeply into litigious abuses such as obstruction of justice that the survivors are encountering today as they seek long overdue compensation for harms done to them.
Susan has also recently completed a 21-minute pedagogical documentary film for the Toronto District School Board. This film, The Art of Reconciliation, focuses on reconciliation at a primary school in Toronto through incorporation of Indigenous arts, teachings and cultural sharing by Anishinaabe artist, Chief Lady Bird. Susan is the director, editor, and a co-producer on this film.
In addition to being a documentarian, Susan is a long-time photojournalist whose writings and photography are wholly focused on human rights issues.