By Jamie-Lee McKenzie
ESPANOLA – During the first week of August 2015, filming began for what is being called the first-ever First Nations zombie thriller movie, titled REZilience.
During the four-day shoot in Espanola the 20 minute proof of concept was filmed. Creator and director Jayson Stewart will pitch the proof to producers in hopes of making REZilience a feature-length film.
The majority of the cast and crew are First Nations from Sagamok Anishnawbek, Whitefish River, Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, Chippewas of Rama and Teme-Augama Anishinabe. Sagamok Anishnawbek is also the primary producer of the film. “We have worked hard for this to not be a cultural appropriation project and have consulted with elders, community leaders, Chiefs, educators and activists,” says Stewart.
Cassandra Robinson from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, is the second director of the film. She became connected to the film after hearing Stewart’s interview about REZilience with CBC in December 2014.
“I wanted to help make this film come to life in a freaky and fun way, I think it’s definitely going to grow into something gory and glorified,” laughed Robinson. Robinson was also a zombie in the film and feels that this film will help people understand First Nations culture better. “It’s going to help raise more awareness about our culture and image, in a really good way, and I think we are making the right steps to make that magic happen,” says Robinson.
The film discusses many political issues and the history of colonization of First Nations people. “This is a story that has power and it talks about colonization and the weaponization of, in this case it’s the weaponization of a zombie virus, but it’s indicative of how diseases were used in early colonization as a tool of oppression.
With stories about the loss of language and loss of identity,” claims Stewart. “We also have connections to the earth, power of the medicines, and the power of the drum.”
The majority of the cast and crew are unpaid volunteers who just wanted the chance to work on a project like this. Many of the cast and crew came together through word of mouth and wanted the chance to work on a film that discusses issues that many First Nations people feel are important. Remington Louie from Lower Kootenay First Nation in British Columbia was cast as the main character in REZilience. Louie contacted Stewart with his interest in being a part of the film after seeing what the film was about.
“The movie has a great political view that I think that everyone should hear, even if they don’t relate to it, it’s still cool, it’s a zombie movie,” laughed Louie. “Everybody here is great to work with, it’s been a great time, and it’s just been a fantastic experience.”
Bruno Henry who is originally from Six Nations, but now lives in Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve became connected to the film through his son, who is doing makeup for the film. He believes that this is an important story that needs to be told. “It’s about time we see some Native culture in a zombie movie and I’m really excited to be a part of it, it’s amazing,” says Henry.
Once a producer is found to fund the project, Stewart plans to film the feature length film in the summer of 2016. The primary photography will be in Sagamok Anishnawbek .