Talent On Tap – Doreen Manuel Schools Me On Tricksters and Writers

In the movie, Field of Dreams, there’s a line that says, ‘if you build it they will come.’ Kevin Costner built a baseball diamond and legendary baseball players started flocking to it; they were deceased but the experiment was a success. I believe that same model has had success over and over again through other analogies of the baseball diamond. Tricksters and Writers was created to seek out and foster new unknown female Indigenous writers as well as established ones. The stories that have been emerging from Indigenous women are nothing short of amazing! Most of these stories have never been told because these newly found writers have never had the platform to tell them.  


Tricksters and Writers is developed by Women In Film and Television (WIFTV) in collaboration with Doreen Manuel, Secwepemc/Ktunaxa Indigenous filmmaker and Director of the Nat and Flora Bosa Centre for Film & Animation. To read more about the program and its team, visit Women In Film + Television Vancouver – Tricksters and Writers. They’ve recently partnered with Final Draft, a Cast & Crew Company, to offer eight writers and their story editors access to their industry standard screenwriting software.   


The screenwriting program originally launched in August of 2017 and now in its third year aims to increase the participation of Indigenous women in key creative positions within the film industry and screen-based media arts community. Tricksters and Writers is offered to women in Vancouver, the Thompson Nicola region and the North Island and is delivered over three phases; the program offers master classes as well as informal script reading sessions, consultations with professional Indigenous story editors, and script development through table read workshops with professional actors. WIFTV is pleased to announce that six writers have been matched with story editors, and two writers recently had their scripts work-shopped with professional actors. Brenda Prince, with her project, The Queen of East Van, Kelly Roulette and Shadow Spirits, Lindsay McIntyre with Her Silent Life, Shaelyn Johnston with Sadie’s Move, Wendy Geddes (Vancouver Island North) with her project Undertow, Mariel Belanger (Vernon) with Transformations, Dawn Tonks (Kamloops) with her project Owl’s Pawn and Jules Koostachin (Vancouver) with her project, It is Beautiful.

I had a very enjoyable and amazing chat with Doreen Manuel about this program and the impact of building it.      


“How did the idea of the Tricksters and Writers program come about?”

“Initially it was because I’m a Telefilm partner with Talent to Watch Fund and I wasn’t getting enough feature film scripts from Indigenous People. In the first year that it ran they had 19 partners across Canada and they hadn’t received one single Indigenous submission. The second year, they implemented the Indigenous Envelope. They started with 12 partners and Capilano University was one of them because we have the only Indigenous Diploma grant and university credited Film Program in all of Canada. Right around the time I was having a talk with WIFTV, other types of programs/writing programs started evolving and incubating. Carolyn Combs, the executive director from WIFTV asked if I wanted to start a program and what that might look like. When I took screenwriting at UBC, as part of my Masters Degree program I took a Feature Film Scriptwriting program in the Creative Writing department and Peggy Thompson was the teacher. I said that Peggy would need to be involved because she could help brainstorm and problem solve some of the issues. Peggy jumped in right away and volunteered; we hatched out what it would look like and then Carolyn wrote up the proposal and we got funding.”



“When the program started in 2017, what was the response like in the first year?”

“I was so overwhelmed, I could not believe the response. We had somewhere around 20 applicants but some of them were coming from the US and unfortunately we weren’t able to accommodate them.  There were around 16 that we had been looking at but we eventually narrowed it down to 12. We took more than we originally decided to take because the writing was just so good. These women were mostly storywriters, poets, people that had obvious writing experience but had never written a script with the exception of a few, that had written short scripts. The samples we were getting in were so amazing. We had so many women right here in Vancouver that were just waiting for something like this to happen.”  


“How many cities/towns is this program being offered in?”

“We just received funding for Prince George but in the second year we had gotten funding from North Vancouver Island. The Film Commission wanted to put that on but that program needed to be considerably smaller because the funding was considerably less. Women came in from all parts of North Vancouver Island. Only 1 feature film came out of that and the rest were short films. We also had to work/customize the program to fit within the student’s limitations. Some of them had never written anything and it was quite a difference between the women that came forward in that grouping in comparison to the first. I don’t know how good our outreach was over there because after we were done running that one, other women starting coming forward to say that they wished they had heard about it. We also ran a program in the Okanagan Interior. It was a pretty successful turnout because we did a workshop before the program. We’ve got one really great solid script that came out of that round and was read at WIFTV. Because of the Covid-19 virus, we have decided to have our first meeting on Zoom in the fall and drive to locations rather than fly, once we start up again.” 


In continuing our conversation about the impact this writing program has had on women, especially victims of residential schools, it’s clearly profound. Doreen told me about the stories that these women have written about and their experiences in the residential school system. It’s been cathartic, because the stories help to shed some of the painful memories that were locked up inside. Doreen Manuel is also a survivor of the residential school system and was also abused. Although she has known much suffering and abuse, she was not familiar with some of the stories about the steamships that transferred children up to the schools.  One of the women that wrote a screenplay told of an encounter she had with a drunken man working on the ship. At night, he would sneak down below where the children slept and abuse her. Doreen says that these stories help to validate their pain and it can help in their healing. She then told me about one of her own stories that she wrote years ago. It was the first story she had ever written and she had recently found it after many years. The story was a retelling of her last day at a residential school. She was leaving her best friend to go home to her family. Her feelings were mixed because she and her friend would always protect each other and she felt like she was abandoning her. Her friend had been tortured and severely abused. She said she cried when she read the story, even years later. The raw emotion, the sadness was still on those pages. Doreen felt empowered to write more stories after sharing her first true account of her own experience. This program will most definitely empower more women to share personal stories that can help to heal their pain and validate their sufferings.  


“Can you tell me about the success of the program since its launch?”

“It’s stretching out across the province; Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Kamloops, Okanagan and now we’ve been successful in the north. If we go to Prince George then people from Williams Lake would have an easy drive but there could be people coming as far as Bella Coola, Bella Bella and the Chilcotin Territory. Since we pay for travel and hotel, we have to figure out how many we can afford to cover with the funds that we have. Although we already have the funding, we’re trying to determine the best place/location to reach the most people possible. We’re trying to find out if there’s a way we can start travelling across Canada. They should be held in every province but it doesn’t mean that we need to be holding it; there are organizations in each province and we need to find funding for them, so they can run the programs themselves.”


“Has it gotten easier to go after funding since establishing the program?”

“I don’t know because one of the things we’re short on most is story editors. ImagiNative in Toronto was able to get funding to run a story editor program for Indigenous People. We tried to get the same funding but were unsuccessful. After the women write the script, they get paired up with a story editor that helps them take their script to the next level. We’re really short of Indigenous story editors in BC; we only have about 5. One of them does a lot of writing for TV so she’s quite busy. We’ve had to turn to Jordan Wheeler in Winnipeg and we’ve tried one from the US recently but it wasn’t successful. One of the graduates of the program in Ontario has been working with us and has been very helpful, she will sometimes take 3 or 4 scripts. For us, that’s the next level; yes we would want to continue to expand Tricksters and Writers but we would really love to run a story editors workshop too. Ideally we’d like to take our first group of Trickster graduates and train them to be story editors.”      


“Will the screenplays eventually go into production?”

“That’s what we’re hoping for but not all will. Initially I wasn’t getting enough scripts for the Talent to Watch program because its only 250,000.00 which would require a very specific script with very few locations and very few characters and not ‘period pieces’. We don’t put any parameters on our writers, they get to write whatever they want to write. We’ve had some amazing stories that would work and we’re considering them for funding. It’s just another piece of the puzzle though, because the writer is not the producer and you need a producer to shop it around. We’re being careful because we don’t want non-Indigenous people buying up the stories and not including Indigenous People.  One of the issues I’m lobbying for is ‘nothing about us, without us’, we should be telling our own stories; that’s the other part of our growth as a people and our growth in the involvement in Indigenous cinema. We want to direct and produce it ourselves.” 


“Are there other avenues of film production that are being offered through the program besides writing?”

“We hadn’t really talked about that yet but we have talked about helping them to understand selling the story and marketing the story. Women In Film gave some of the women funds to attend the media festival in Banff. They were there to market their finished feature film scripts. We’re continuing discussions about them going back and also discussions about them getting involved in Whistler because there’s also opportunities there. We’re also helping them to network at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) when they have events, getting them tickets so they can shop around their scripts to the right producers that won’t change it and will use Indigenous actors, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an Indigenous producer. Those that do express interest in the film industry, we encourage them to go to school and take a film program.”    


“Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the program?”

“No, not so far. We had already finished the WIFTV festival before it all started. The table reads happened at the festival and we had finished running all the programs everywhere. We were then working on allocating funding for the Prince George program but all of that can be done online. We just found out that we were approved for the funding but now it’s about the planning on how we’re going to run it. We weren’t planning on running it till the end of September, so we have time. If we find out in July that we’re still on lockdown then we can push it to Oct, or Nov and if we really have to, we can do it online. While we’re dealing with the unknown I will be looking into how we can deliver the entire program online. Going into production of any films has been impacted because we don’t know when we can start up again.”  


Once this pandemic has finally dissolved, we can expect to see a new collection of female Indigenous films on the horizon. I for one, cannot wait to see their stories on the screen, it’s about time. 


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