On Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET, ARTCAST Season 2 premieres Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN, a new documentary short by filmmaker Yunuen Perez Vertti. Filmed in Vancouver, IN THE HEART OF THE WOMEN is about West Coast Women Artists, a collective of indigenous artists whose goal is to build on artistic skills, share knowledge, and preserve traditional teaching through art. Featuring Arlene Bowman, Haisla Collins, Doris Fox, Lori Fox, Rose-Marie Francis, Veronica Iza, Chrisse Oleman, Jacqueline Quewezance, Jacqueline West, and Georgina Wing-Klema.
I interviewed Yunuen Perez Vertti about her new documentary short, IN THE HEART OF WOMEN.
MB: I have known you and your work as a filmmaker for almost 15 years. What struck me about you when I first met you was your energy and enthusiasm for all art forms, not just film. Dance, music, poetry, visual art…they all seemed to resonate equally with you. I see that multifaceted side of you as strong as ever, which makes it always exciting for me when I have the opportunity to work with you. How did you approach your collaboration with the West Coast Women Artists Collective?
YPV: I do love all art forms, I think of art as a whole tree as opposed to lots of branches. I usually get my inspiration for documentaries from people’s stories and I seem to be attracted to people that make art. When I learned about the West Coast Women Artists Collective, I was curious about their contemporary approach to indigenous art, but when I met them, their personalities and stories where inspiring to me. Since I moved to Vancouver I’ve been trying to infiltrate myself on the arts circle, and learn about the art scene here. I didn’t have much knowledge about indigenous art and I thought it would be interesting to learn about it from the perspective of these women, and their stories where so powerful, it was hard for me not to create a documentary.
MB: The film is very positive and focuses on the nurturing environment that is created by these artists coming together to form a community. One gets a feeling that the film is of the present and the future, and not the past; this to me is one of the qualities that makes this film so strong. Even the quote you begin with speaks to moving forward. There are, however, some serious issues alluded to by some of the women in their interviews. Were there stories you chose not to include in this short, and if so, why?
YPV: Yes, when I started shooting the documentary my focus was on the art and the forming of a collective by these women. However, as the shooting when on, a lot of personal stories came afloat, and it was obvious to me that these women had difficult but important stories to tell. When I started post production it was difficult for me to pick and choose the stories I was going to include. I decided to stay with my original plan, and focus on their art and their coming together. I didn’t want to show incomplete stories; they were very interesting stories, but I felt I had to do more research to present the full story. Like any other indigenous group in the world, in Canada the story is not different, there is a long history behind a lot of the indigenous people’s issues, and unfortunately a lot of pain.
MB: Do you have plans to expand this short in the future into a full-length documentary?
YPV: I would love to make it a full length documentary, of course time and funding will play a role on making that decision. As of now, I’m planning on shooting at least until they have their first exhibition in February.
MB: Some of the artists were very open and articulate, and some were more reticent. One of the most poignant statements for me came from a woman who did not speak very much on camera, but when she did it was so eloquent. How did you go about getting the artists to speak to you, especially the ones who might have been shy to speak on camera.
YPV: Actually, I was surprised on how quickly they opened up to me. But yes, some of them were more open than others. From our first meeting I understood that there would be some difficulties in getting them to talk to me on camera, so I worked hard to make them feel comfortable talking to me before I put them in front of the camera. Anytime you are doing interviews, you try to make your subjects comfortable. I understood that most of the women from the collective had never had the experience of been interviewed. For some of them, it was an exciting moment, and for some of them, it was clearly a nerve racking moment. I tried to understand their personalities and honor their requests as much as possible to make it easy for them to feel relaxed.
MB: Do you think an understanding of the social context of women from a different culture is essential to our progression as a society in general?
YPV: Definitely, we live in a global world, and now more than ever things that happen in other countries or societies should matter to us, because they affect us directly or indirectly. I believe progress for any society has a direct relationship to women’s progress and development. Frankly, I wish we didn’t have to talk about women’s progress and development anymore, but the reality is that there still a lot of work to be done, around the world, in regards to women.
MB: Do you think it’s difficult for artists in all cultures equally, or do you think some cultures make it more of a taboo? Do you think it is different also for different genders?
YPV: I think being an artist is difficult no matter what culture you are part of, however, I also think that some issues can be directly related to individual cultures. I think this documentary touches on some specific issues related to indigenous people in Canada. Some of those issues may not translate to other cultures. As far as the gender issue, I think unfortunately in the arts, gender is an issue as well. These women, the West Coast Women Artists are one of the first indigenous women collectives in Canada. And even my industry of film is lacking gender diversity, so yes, it is a very different experience for men in the arts, and women in the arts, irrespective of cultures.
MB: I found Veronica Iza’s song to be very moving, and compelling behind the images of the artists’ work. How did you discover the song?
YPV: Veronica shared it with me, when I mentioned I was looking for music to use in the film. As soon as I heard the song, I knew I had to use it.
MB: Can you tell me about the exhibition that they will be having in February?
YPV: The exhibition will be at the Roundhouse exhibit hall in Yaletown, Vancouver, from February 2 to 11, with a reception on February 7. Most of the women from the collective are producing original work, and the diversity of the group will be reflected through the different art forms. I think, for what I know about them now, the process of putting this exhibition together, independently of how successful it is, in terms of attendance and selling of their art, it’s going to be a huge learning experience for them. It will definitely help them to understand a lot more about themselves and the collective as an entity. I’m curious and excited to shoot that process.
ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN will premiere on Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance. Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on Youtube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org