Telling stories with a purpose
How one MRU student uses filmmaking to alter perceptions
By Jennifer Dorozio, Contributor
It had been more than two hours and Trevor Solway was still holding onto the umbrella he had been given to protect the camera equipment on set. Although it was so cold, he wondered if his hand would be frozen in that grip, but he didn’t really mind. It was one of Solway’s first movie sets he ever worked on and completing tasks like running people’s tripods and getting the production team coffee were certainly not below him.
Now Solway has produced, written and directed a number of his own short films, and has just returned from the Toronto film festival ‘ImagineNATIVE’ where his short film titled Indian Giver was presented.
Solway is a fourth-year journalism student, director and creative youth mentor. However, he prefers not to label himself by just one or two titles.
“I’m a life long learner, I don’t like to be idle” says Solway. “Film is cool but when I have an idea and want to express myself and films not the best way then I do a photograph or a story or an infographic or something.”
Where it all started
Solway’s creative journey began as early as childhood when, if he would finish the chores his grandfather had left for him to do at the ranch, he would recreate movie scenes with his family and friends.
After a short time at Lethbridge College studying communication arts, and a stint at Mount Royal University, he discovered a love for film and applied to three film schools. While getting into the Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking at Capilano University wasn’t his first choice it ended up being a crucial experience for him.
“I kind of define my life before Vancouver and after Vancouver,” says Solway. He says that the people around him really dictated who he was and that, “When I went to Vancouver and all of that got taken away from me…I had to redefine myself.”
A part of this process was appreciating his heritage as a Blackfoot. In Vancouver, he came across many Blackfoot people and was able to collaborate and learn from them in shoots and productions.
Upon completion of his certificate program, however, he found himself back in Alberta and not really sure where to go from there.
“I came back, I was a little disappointed with myself,” says Solway. “In my mind the two films I made in film school were going be the only films I ever made and I was kind of sad thinking about that.”
As the universe would have it, Solway was not finished with his filmmaking career. It was the summer of 2013 and the deluge of rain that hit Alberta caused flooding in multiple communities across the lower province.
At the time Solway was working a summer job when he learned that the Siksika Media department needed someone to capture footage of the floods-his next film lay waiting to be created.
“It was like a post apocalyptic world at my reserve and during my time there,” says Solway, who had two days to shoot the footage.
The project, while daunting, didn’t really phase Solway. He laid out plans for what he would shoot while moving his grandfather’s lawn and wrote out interviews and treatments while riding shotgun on the way to pick up bulls.
By the time it came the moment to film, he was sitting in his tiny silver Grand Am all loaded up with gear asking himself, “Where do I go now?” before deciding to just begin talking to people.
He says the short amount of time he had and unsophisticated gear he used only added to the whole challenge of the filmmaking experience.
“I filmed almost 19 hours in two days, on 90’s tape,” remembers Solway. To him it wasn’t the sophistication of gear that matter but rather, “It’s the story that is important to me. I will work on a shoestring budget if I have to.”
Focusing on the heart of the story is something that Solway chooses to always keep as the driving factor of his filmmaking.
“Something I try to hold onto is to always have good intentions,” says Solway. “Think about the story and why you’re doing it before all else, if you focus on only the technical you’re going to get a piece that doesn’t have your heart in it.”
Solway’s documentary film covering the Alberta flooding in Siksika was titled “Siksika Strong.” The film caused him to attract the attention of Canada Bridges, a non-profit organization that among other things, mentors and supports leaders in journalism.
While working on completing his Bachelor of Communication-Journalism at MRU, Solway worked part-time with Canada Bridges. Eventually he pitched the idea to his boss to create a film camp in order to build a community of filmmakers in Siksika.
“I told my boss I want to start being in charge of our own stories and that starts with having our own filmmakers.”
Solway says this desire to have himself and other young people tell their own stories creatively stems from the fact that, “you see a lot of films in Hollywood with Native people who look like they are stuck in a time capsule with the headdress and the feathers.”
To Solway, this speaks to a larger narrative he hopes to rewrite. “If the only time people see us in films is with beads and feathers and headdresses people start to think that we’re like dinosaurs, we don’t exist.” When in reality, he says, “we don’t live in teepees we’re just like you.”
Solway hopes to change this misconception in some way by giving youth in the Siksika and Morley communities the tools to tell their own stories.
Another reason he runs these camps is to provide a positive way for young adults on his reserve to spend their time. Growing up he remembers there were often, “not a lot of opportunities,” for extracurricular activities.
“My film camps in a way are a response to that, to have an avenue on Reserve for people who are tech-heads to do something productive and fun,” says Solway. “It could be a career, keep them out of trouble, validate them-the opportunities are endless.”
The film camps have been very successful, often the students who enrol are returning after having attended his previous camps. Some of the participants have gone on to do film school or work in media.
“If you tell someone, ‘Hey you’re good at that’, it could really take off,” says Solway. “Something I really emphasize is to give them creative freedom, they make all the decisions.”
By the end of the five-day camps the youth have brainstormed, written, directed and filmed their movies. Solway says it always finishes with a screening for an audience, which he says for them, “can be really nerve-wracking but rewarding.”
After winning the ImagineNATIVE and CIF mentorship program in March, Solway was able to reorient and develop himself further in the world of narrative film.
“I didn’t want my knowledge to get stale and get to a point where I could offer them (his students) anything anymore so I took on this mentorship to be a better mentor myself,” says Solway.
He did so by working on the set of Cowtown, which premiered this month, and writing and filming Indian Giver.
Having just returned from his film screening in Toronto he is now preparing for a trip to Los Angeles. He will be attending LA Skins Festival and is up for an award in best achievment in short filmmaking.