About The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film

The following post was written by Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. Thinking Rock’s community-created documentary film received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program last June. 

This program has now closed for 2019. To read more about past projects that were supported, login to the Member Network and click on the Collaborative Community Initiatives tab in the menu! 


The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film is a vital legacy document of The Rivers Speak Project and of Gigidoowag Ziibiik I The Rivers Speak: A Community Play, which marked the culmination of a five-year collaborative community-engaged process, led by Thinking Rock in partnership with Jumblies Theatre, AlgomaTrad, Timber Village Museum, Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake and Serpent River First Nation.

The Rivers Speak Story Project – supported by SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, along with the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program and in-kind contributions from project partners at Village Electric and AlgomaTrad – resulted in the creation of a mini-documentary film that recounts the dynamic, multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational, multi-year community-engaged art-making process, and the vibrant relationships and experiences that resulted throughout the making of the play.

The mini-documentary film shares the impacts of The Rivers Speak Project with a wider audience than the play alone could have reached while building on the project’s legacy. It shows and tells the Rivers Speak story from foundation to production and beyond, offering viewers – those who were part of the process, as well as newcomers to Thinking Rock’s work – a look at the activities and processes involved, the relationships created and sustained, and the challenges and joys encountered along the journey.

Throughout the filmmaking process, Thinking Rock and the project team engaged many of the partners, participants and volunteers who were involved throughout the Rivers Speak. This included conducting additional interviews (of participants, Elders, artists and others) and filming Rivers Speak legacy activities (notably, reunions and gatherings, as well as the evolving gallery and art-making sessions) across the Central Algoma region during the summer of 2018. Additional amateur and community-generated video footage, along with audio files and photos documenting the multi-year project, were incorporated in the film to represent the breadth of community-generated content and offer a sense of the project’s collaborative creation. Existing Rivers Speak production video footage and interviews captured by Village Electric, as well as a professionally-recorded, community-generated soundtrack from the play (featuring community participants, AlgomaTrad musicians, Grandmother Marly Day and others) further enhance the resulting film while speaking to the play process.

The creation of The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film fostered exciting experiential learning and mentorship across the team, from Thinking Rock staff to filmmakers to musicians to participants. It expanded our perspectives about documentary filmmaking’s potential as a tool for exploring narrative and conveying the specifics of community-engaged artistic practice; the final mini-documentary film communicates the integral involvement of many hands, hearts and perspectives throughout the process. Making this film increased the capacity of all involved to work collaboratively across communities, cultures, languages and artistic disciplines. Despite a few challenges and having to alter our plans and timelines somewhat, we collectively carried the project forward towards an impressive outcome we are excited to share.

This project had many wide-reaching, short- and long-term impacts. We learned a lot throughout the process that will impact our respective work in future. The final mini-documentary film will continue to impact the Rivers Speak partner communities, whose contributions are reflected in it. The Rivers Speak Project engaged more than 4,000 people as participants, performers, partners, audience members and more between 2013 and 2018. As a record of this process showing many formative moments along the way, the mini-documentary film celebrates and acknowledges the contributions made by participants and community partners to the successful play, from pilot to production to legacy, each time it is viewed at home and elsewhere.

It is our hope that the mini-documentary will extend the Rivers Speak project – and our work generally – to live on and make impacts well beyond the life of the play, in places farther afield than our Algoma District home. We hope that the film will inspire others across Turtle Island to start and continue their own paths toward community-building, respectful collaboration and reconciliation. The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film is nearing completion, and we look forward to sharing it widely soon! Follow us on Instagram (@ThinkingRockCA) and Facebook for details about this and other projects. Thinking Rock is thankful to the SPARC Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program, and in-kind contributions from project partners Village Electric and AlgomaTrad for making this project possible.

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