Brother-sister team of Wookey Films create riveting documentaries

The first Wookey-produced documentary, Mémère Métisse, follows the story of Janelle and Jérémie Wookey’s grandmother coming to accept her heritage.
It’s a touching, beautiful, honest film portraying the equally captivating presences of Janelle and her grandmother, Cécile St. Amant, and illuminating the incredible artistry of the younger generation.
It was also the first hint of the Wookeys’ flair for graciously handling difficult subject matter.
Eight years later, Janelle and Jérémie are on their own journey with a young production company, Wookey Films – and finding their place in the Aboriginal community.
“We feel like we have a foot in both of these (the non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal) communities,” says Janelle. “Helping create an understanding between both is socially the most powerful thing we can do.”
Janelle and Jérémie are Franco-Métis – a fact they didn’t learn about until later in life. Because of this, they had a delayed introduction to Métis culture and didn’t grow up with any of the customs or traditions.
They were quick to perceive misconceptions surrounding Aboriginal people, and now approach each relevant project through the lens of what will be educational for the non-Aboriginal community, as well as interesting and engaging – what will help everyone empathize with the subject matter of the film.
“My attachment (to the Aboriginal community) has continued to grow since then,” says Janelle, tracing back to their first documentary. “I feel really passionate about debunking the myths about First Nations people.
“The advantage that we have is bridging the gap a little bit.”
While keeping the non-Aboriginal viewer in mind, the Wookeys share stories from Aboriginal subjects, allowing a streamlined interaction to take place. “We’re almost just the messenger,” says Janelle.
She gives an example from a recent project, A Right to Eat: they began the film by asking subjects why they choose to live on a reserve. They knew the first thing some of the viewers would think to themselves would be, “Well why wouldn’t you just move to the city to get better access to food?”
“This is their home, this is where they grew up,” relays Janelle. “They like living in the country.” The real problem is the poor accessibility and high cost of food on reserves, which the documentary goes on to expose.
Another deep-seated issue is a lack of nutritional knowledge. “It’s not like people were making a bad choice about what to eat – they had no idea what was a healthy meal,” says Janelle. “We want to show people that there’s a lack of education and make sure that people will have empathy.”
                                             A dignified approach
The two Creative Communications grads and former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation employees have developed an exceptional grasp of responsible journalism. One of their biggest concerns when editing is “making sure we’re representing the people well,” says Jérémie. They take care not to misappropriate words, and present every interviewee with respect and dignity.
With this approach, they help get stories out that aren’t being covered in conventional news – important ones.
What’s most rewarding for them is changing perceptions and educating people (Mémère Métisse is even included in school curriculums), but they’ve gained noteworthy critical acclaim for their work as well.
Their 2014 documentary, Treading Water, depicts the plight of the flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation, who were displaced from their homes four years ago by the government to take “temporary” lodging in insufficient Winnipeg hotels.
Treading Water won Best Short Documentary at last year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, and the Aboriginal Award at Yorkton Film Festival. Mémère Métisse (MM) won Best Emerging Talent at imagineNATIVE in 2008.
                                                           Future work
The Wookeys are now expanding on a niche they found in MM: older people make profoundly great screen presences. They’re teaming up with Francophone women in nursing homes to tour the places where they grew up, sharing stories of their upbringing and momentous occasions from their past. They’re also capturing the passing on of Métis recipes from one generation to the next in another French-language web series. While diversifying their subject matter, the stories are still rooted within the communities they know best.
Many more projects are in the early stages of development, which could mean doubling their workforce.
The Wookeys have recently brought on one full-time staffer, Laurence Lemaire, a former Montreal reporter. “At the very root of it, the reason we started this business was to work with friends, and enjoy our days,” says Janelle.
Good times are rolling at the Wookey Films headquarters in the Exchange District.

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