Prince George Métis Elders' Documentary Project

Researchers: Stephen Foster and Mike Evans

The Installation:
Fundamentally this project is an artistic exploration and experimentation with the form of documentary and its conceptual treatment of representation.

The exhibition of the project is in the form of an interactive multi-channel video art installation. The video installation uses simultaneity and overlapping narratives and visuals to create inter-textual references. Audience members can choose material by navigating the screens or by just watching as the video plays through the various sections of the DVD. As each station and projection plays different elements they combine in interesting ways to form new content or expand the context of material being viewed. As an individual interacts with different materials they will create new inter-textual inferences between the various screens.

The Project Background:
This SSHRCC (Social Science Humanities Research Council of Canada) funded research/creation project bridges academia, fine art, and community participation in unique and innovative ways. From the onset of the project we set out to use a modified Participatory Action Research (PAR) model that blended notions of social science methodology with artistic and aesthetic concerns into a highly innovative process. The goal was a hybrid form of community-based research documentary that respected not only content but also form and presentation. The video was shot and edited by an artist professional (myself) but the community provided direction on what should be recorded and when. The result is an interactive DVD installation that expands the notion of documentary filmmaking in both process and form.

dvdmapThe interactive component enhances the relationship between audience/viewer and the video. As active participants, viewers can shape content and construct individualized narratives. This is an important aspect of the project development as it extends the traditional notion of PAR to include the end user (audience) in the formation and contextualization of content. The non-linear nature of interactive video also enables a more inclusive approach. In conventional documentary there is a linear narrative that dictates what interviews might be included and what might not. Having the ability to create more than one narrative stream allows the project to include other strong interviews that might otherwise not be included. This is also import for the community, especially an indigenous community, because all individuals that want to have say can and therefore they have opportunity to participate more fully in the project.

While this is the first time that the project will be presented in its complete installation form the project has been presented previously in other less complete forms. Most recently the project was presented in Philadelphia at the Ethnographic Terminalia exhibition and at the ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto where it was nominated for Best New Media Project. Over the last few years I have been extremely fortunate to present aspects of the project and its process in panel discussions and lectures at various high profile conferences and at prestigious universities around the world. We (Dr. Mike Evans and myself) have presented the concept and process in the form of power point presentations and lectures at Wilfred Laurier (international conference on Indigenous Film), Concordia (as visiting lecturer and at a international conference on sharing authority), Bochum in Germany (international conference on documentary filmmaking), Montreal (public artist talk), Macquarie University in Australia (visiting lecturer), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand (visiting lecturer), Nauvo in Finland (international conference on small island cultures) and public artist talks at the Alternator Gallery in Kelowna. I have also participated in variety of production residences where I completed specific aspects of the project or developed concepts used in the project. I did residencies at the Banff Centre, Oboro Gallery and Media Arts Centre in Montreal, and at KIAC in Dawson City.


Material Background:
The Project video includes a series of interviews and video journeys that depict and document the Métis community of Prince George and BC. There are various video elements from cultural workshops, historical documentation, Métis music, medicine walks, individual and group interviews of local Métis Elders from the Island Cache (a small island at the juncture between the Fraser and Nechako rivers) and the history of Métis in Prince George. These video and audio elements are interlinked with one another to form a non-linear multi-vocal narrative that allows for inclusivity and simultaneity to inform and educate audiences on Métis history in British Columbia as well as generating compelling and emotive audio and visuals. The simultaneity also creates unique and intriguing juxtapositions and vignettes of content and image. This fragmentation while metaphorically represents the complexity of the contemporary Métis Diaspora it also works to create a deeper more intuitive understanding of the local community, its history and dynamics.

The interactivity embedded in the video elements engages the viewer/audience in a dialogue with the video imagery and content that is beyond mere passive reaction. As the viewer/audience navigates through material, via mouse on screen, they build their own connections and construct their own narratives. Interviews can play off and inform one another or they could combine with imagery of surrounding locations and historical information giving a broader context to the representation of individuals and community.

Video Excerpts:

Creating a Legacy

The Island Cache

A Thriving Community

Pilgrimage to Lac St. Anne


Images from Project