Hot Docs ’19: Tasha Hubbard’s unexpected journey

The filmmaker discusses why she decided to take on nipawistamasowin: We Will Stand Up and how she approached the doc's sensitive subject matter.
Tasha Hubbard

Cree filmmaker Tasha Hubbard didn’t set out to make nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up into a feature-length documentary. “I tell people that and they kind of laugh. They’re like ‘well of course you were going to make a feature,’” she told Playback Daily ahead of the film’s world premiere at Hot Docs 2019.

Originally intended as a one-hour doc for broadcast, the decision to turn nîpawistamâsowin into a longer story came about after Hubbard and her team realized the story had expanded. Centred on the case of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a young Cree man who died in a shooting incident in Saskatchewan in August 2016, nîpawistamâsowin examines the tension that erupted following his passing, how his case was handled in the Canadian justice system and issues around colonialism’s past in the Prairies.

“I think it was in Ottawa where we [said] ‘OK, this is probably now a feature, if we can pull it off,’” the filmmaker and academic said of the days after a jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder in the summer of 2018. The Saskatchewan farmer had testified that his gun had gone off accidentally when he was trying to scare Boushie and other young people off his property. Meanwhile, the filmmaking team was just trying to keep up. “We knew the family had other plans to keep going beyond the Prime Minister’s office. They just said, ‘We’re not going to give up.’ When you have that happening, you can’t stop filming.”

The pieces that allowed Hubbard and her team to propel nîpawistamâsowin towards its new goal were an increased contribution from the NFB, and support from funders like Creative Saskatchewan, the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund and the Theatrical Feature-Length Documentary Program.

Produced through her Downstream Documentary banner with the NFB in association with CBC Docs and APTN, nîpawistamâsowin is Hubbard’s second feature-length doc following Birth of a Family (2017). On Thursday (April 25), her project will also make history as the first Indigenous-led project to open Hot Docs, according to a NFB spokesperson. In addition to this milestone, her doc will also usher in an increase in the number of female directors who have their work featured at the festival (54%), a slight bump from last year’s 50%.

Hubbard, who is connected to the Boushie family through her relatives (her father who is married to Boushie’s aunt), explains that while finishing up a rough cut of her second documentary, Birth of a Family – a story centred on four siblings who meet for the first time after being separated by the Sixties Scoop – she heard the news about Boushie’s passing.

In the following days, Hubbard says she was approached by some people close to the family to consider the possibility of doing a film, an idea that naturally trickled into her discussions with her longtime NFB producer Bonnie Thompson. “It was just natural to start to talk to Bonnie about that possibility,” she said.

In deciding to take on the story, Hubbard says she tried to have open discussions with Boushie’s family about what the project would look like and how it would impact them. For instance, before CBC Docs POV officially came on board in November 2017, Hubbard and Boushie’s family discussed what their involvement would mean and how she would do her best to foster their story in a respectful way. However, she also cautioned them that once a film is out there, there’s no telling how an audience might react to it. “Once a film is out in the world, it’s out in the world,” she warned.

Woven with her own perspective throughout the doc, Hubbard says she aimed to strike a balance between providing her own personal perspective and the enormity of the issues presented in nîpawistamâsowin. “I wanted to tell the story, to be open about who I was and the lens I was bringing to the film. I think that objectivity is an impossibility,” she said. “I think every filmmaker brings their own position, they bring their own experience to telling a story, which is why I feel really passionately about Indigenous stories being told through Indigenous eyes and voices.”

As for what’s next, Hubbard says she would like to continue focusing on feature-length documentaries in the long term but needs to take a break before she can pursue her next project. “This project was also the first time I produced, and so everything intensified. I think I’ll need some time,” she said.

Producers on nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up include Hubbard, Downstream Documentary’s George Hupka and the NFB’s Jon Montes and Bonnie Thompson. The NFB’s David Christensen is an exec producer on the project. Bizable Media’s Janice Dawe and Kathy Avrich-Johnson serve as co-exec producers. Trudy Stewart is an associate producer on the doc.

Nîpawistamâsowin was made with the participation of the CMF and is distributed by the NFB. Hubbard’s nîpawistamâsowin will also screen as a gala presentation in DOXA’s 2019 Justice Forum this May.

Image courtesy of the NFB, photo of Tasha Hubbard by Jon Montes