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Mohawk Girls: Gearing up for the final season with Head Writer Cynthia Knight

Mohawk Girls returns for its fifth and final season this Tuesday, Nov. 14, on APTN. Co-created and executive produced by Cynthia Knight and Tracey Deer, the series stars Jenny Pudavick as Bailey, Brittany LeBorgne as Zoe, Heather White as Caitlin and Maika Harper as Anna, four modern-day women trying to stay true to their roots while navigating sex, work, love and what it means to be Mohawk in the 21st century.

I caught up with the lovely and talented Cynthia Knight by phone whilst she was riding in the back of a cab during her recent visit to New York City. Stuck in traffic, we had a nice chunk of time to catch up since my visit to set in Kahnawa:ke, Quebec, last season. We had lots to cover, and we finally we managed to get around to this final season of Mohawk Girls.

How are you feeling right now as the final season of Mohawk Girls is about to be launched Tuesday evening?
Cynthia Knight: Talk about ‘Empty Nester’. It is such a weird time. There are so many different feelings. We are so thrilled that we knew the series was ending because we got to finish up the girls’ storylines and get them to where we wanted them to be. And we were really excited for the audience to see that. All in all, from the time we first shot the pilot which was in 2009—the whole process has been about nine years.

I think for me, part of me is you know, looking forward to doing something else. But, it is really difficult, these people, these characters, we live with them all year long. We are in development, then prep, then production, then post, and then we start development again. And it has been like that for five years. So it definitely feels very weird that we won’t be coming back to this. We have been so incredibly blessed with a cast and crew that gets together every year and it feels like this wonderful reunion. Definitely, a lot of mixed feelings going on.

What about Mohawk Girls, as you are reflecting back upon the journey, are you most proud of?
Tracey and I always like to create content that is above all else entertaining, but that also has a deeper message. To create material that is not heavy or preachy, that is entertaining, but is capable of something important and builds bridges between communities; I think we really found that magic formula with Mohawk Girls. I feel that the producers [Rezolution Pictures] and the network [APTN] and the fans have given us the ability in this platform to really talk and delve into these issues and this community. We shed light on who they are and, how similar we all are. We get to really break down stereotypes and misconceptions.

We get so much feedback from friends or people who happened upon the show and they are like, ‘Wow, we never realized this,’ or ‘We always thought Kahnawa:ke was that,’ or ‘I never really thought about native people in that light.’ To tell the story of Mohawk Girls in a light and entertaining way, so that people can just enjoy the show. To show modern, vibrant Mohawk women, and Mohawk people, and have that depiction on television when people are so used to seeing them in a very heavy, kind of historical context for the difficulties in many of their communities, I think really that is what I am most proud of. I feel that we really contributed to the very important and timely conversation about our [Canadian] history and our present-day relationships with native communities. People have definitely heard and responded, and I am just so elated about that.

As a writer, looking back over your many years working on Mohawk Girls, where are you as a writer now?
It is so interesting. You know you learn and grow so much with each project. Tracey and I were recently working with our digital media people. We fell upon some old content from previous seasons and they did some amalgamation videos of fun moments from all of the seasons. It is so incredible to watch the progression and the journeyMohawk Girls was the first time that Tracey and I were at the helm. Not only was she directing, and I was the head writer, but we were showrunning, so we got to see our creative vision. We made a lot of mistakes. We always do. We always will. But, we learned so much.

I think one of the main things as a writer is to be confident and really go for it with what you want to say. Have faith in yourself and your ability to it, but at the same time surround yourself with great talent, and be really open to their ideas and their perspectives. Even though I have been writing for a long time and at the helm of this show, it has been an incredible, incredible learning experience and an opportunity for a huge amount of growth.

What about colonization and the stereotypes of Indigenous people have altered your lens since your involvement with Mohawk Girls?
Oh so much! I like to think that I am a conscientious person and an egalitarian. As a Jewish person, I and my people have experienced so much racism over the centuries as well, so I felt that I was so in tune with that and certainly with native people. And as a child, my mom’s best friend was from Kahnawa:ke so I had no notion of what it was beyond ‘they have different practices but we are all people’ and I thought I knew everything. But I have learned so much over this process.

We have this one storyline with Anna [Maika Harper]. People are telling her that McGill is a colonialist institution and she is being brainwashed and she, like me, was ‘really?’ It’s not that I didn’t believe but, I couldn’t even give you an example of what that meant if I tried. But researching and talking to Tracey, you see how ingrained it is in our way of thinking. So often you don’t know that you don’t know.

I am very, very sensitive to any jokes about any minority group, and I don’t remember what the comment was, but someone made a comment on set and I didn’t even react. A lot of people bristled, and I didn’t because I didn’t even realise that it could be offensive.  Afterwards, I felt so horrible that I hadn’t noticed. The key is to learn and hear and understand and be open to knowing that there is stuff that you don’t know. It has been a huge long process for me of constant growth. Every season, every time I am in Kahnawa:ke, every time I am talking to people, I was shocked with how much I didn’t know, even me, a member of another minority, so I am highly sensitive to it.

Cynthia and me on set in Kahnawa:ke in the summer of 2016.

Can you give us any hints about what is in store for our fabulous foursome this season?
I think and I hope fans are going to be really gratified with where our characters end up. We’ve for a long time known for at least two of them where we wanted to end their storylines and two we did not know. We did not know Zoe [Brittany LeBorgne] and we did not know Anna. With Zoe, there is a bit of a surprise in store, but I won’t tell you what. Bailey [Jenny Pudavick] has a real battle this season. I mean you know, she is with James [Jeffrey Wetsch]. She has tried it before. How is she going to make it work? It is a real battle. Anna, we had lots of different ideas of where we end her, but we are very happy. And, I think Caitlin [Heather White] is the most gratifying.

Any last messages for fans that you want to share?
You know, you can write something that you think says something important or that you want people to respond to, but if people don’t watch or get invested, and don’t care and don’t support the project then there is no show. But so much of what gets us through those very challenging times that productions like Mohawk Girls experience, is knowing people out there, both native and non-native, all sorts of people from across the country are invested and care about our girls, about the characters. I mean, they want to see what happens to them and they are learning and growing right along with them.

Tracey got this call recently from a Jewish guy who grew up in Montreal but was living in Toronto. And he had grown up thinking that Kahnawa:ke was this weird scary place that you just never go to but he just happened to catch an episode of Mohawk Girls. He then binge-watched the whole series and he called Tracey. He was in Kahnawa:ke. He came all the way from Toronto and brought his adult son and he was there for the weekend and he came to see the place and again, just build a bridge. He realized how wrong he was and how many misconceptions he had, and he wanted to open his eyes and see the place for real.

It is those kinds of stories or fans who are young women who are inspired by our characters’ bravery and relate to how flawed they are; this is really the whole joy and purpose of creating a series, telling any kind of story, and putting it out there. To touch people and to inspire people, make people feel that they are not alone. So for our fans who have been so vocal about it to us, we are just infinitely grateful for you sharing your stories and for all of your support and enthusiasm. This has been a really special experience.

My thanks to Cynthia for taking the time to speak with me.

Mohawk Girls season premiere airs Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET/CT/MT on APTN.

 

 

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Mohawk Girls, Fifth and Final Season Debuts Tuesday, November 14 Exclusively on APTN

From a media release:

APTN’s (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) critically-acclaimed and award-winning dramatic comedy Mohawk Girls returns for its fifth and final season. The series takes a comedic look at the lives of four modern-day women trying to stay true to their roots while navigating sex, work, love and what it means to be Mohawk in the 21st century. The half-hour dramedy follows these twenty-something women as they begin to forge their own identity within a community embedded with rules and cultural traditions.

Filmed and set in Montreal and the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, the six-episode, fifth season of the half-hour dramedy premieres Tuesday, November 14 with weekly episodes airing on APTN e, and HD at 8:30 p.m. ET, APTN w at 8:30 p.m. MT and on APTN n at 8:30 p.m. CT.

Viewers can venture deeper into the world of Mohawk Girls via the interactive website, with a quiz app, behind-the-scenes secrets and entertaining content. Viewers can enjoy an enhanced viewing experience during the show by live Tweeting and simultaneously accessing bonus content via the link to the Second Screen Experience.

This season, the protagonists navigate love triangles, sex addiction, career aspirations, conformity, bad boyfriends, and impossible choices, all as they try to forge their own identities in a community embedded with rules and cultural traditions. With the show’s inimitable combination of humour and pathos, Season Five brings all four girls to the brink and forces them to answer the question of what kind of Mohawk they want to be.

The dynamic cast of four leading women includes returning cast members Jenny Pudavick (Bailey), Brittany LeBorgne (Zoe), Heather White (Caitlin), and Maika Harper (Anna).  Meegwun Fairbrother (Butterhead), Shawn Youngchief (Ohserase), Dwain Murphy (Leon) and Jeffrey Wetsch (James) reprise their roles as the men they love. Also returning, Tantoo Cardinal as Zoe’s mom and Glen Gould as Bailey’s father.

Mohawk Girls is created and executive produced by Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight; Tracey Deer directs the episodes and Cynthia Knight is the head writer. The series is produced by Rezolution Pictures’ Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon and Linda Ludwick, and executive produced by Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon, Linda Ludwick and Ernest Webb. Innovate By Day is the Digital Media Producer. LVL is the producer of the Second Screen Experience web application. Monika Ille is the Executive Director, Programming and Scheduling for APTN.

 

 

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APTN original series Mohawk Girls fifth and final season begins shooting

From a media release:

Rezolution Pictures announced that Season 5 of the APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) hit dramedy series Mohawk Girls will begin filming today, once again in Montreal and the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, where the show is set. Mohawk Girls’ final season will air on APTN in fall 2017.

The series was nominated for multiple Canadian Screen Awards for the last two years running, including Best Comedy Series, Best Direction in a Comedy Series, Best Writing in a Comedy Series, and Best Actress in a Comedy Series. And this year, actress Brittany LeBorgne was nominated in the Fan’s Choice category.

Mohawk Girls takes a comedic look at the lives of four modern-day women trying to stay true to their roots while navigating sex, work, love and what it means to be Mohawk in the 21st century. Set in Kahnawake, the half-hour dramedy follows these twenty-something women as they begin to forge their own identity within a community embedded with rules and cultural traditions.

This season, Bailey deals with the repercussions of leaving Mohawk fiancé Watio in favour of white guy James. Zoe gets out of rehab for sex addiction but the pressure to get back into her community’s good graces — leads her to the brink of relapse. Caitlin enjoys the highs of being back in a relationship with Butterhead. But when she’s reminded of the lows, Caitlin can’t quite bring herself to fully break it off with her former flame Leon. And Anna finally gets everything she’s always wanted – total acceptance into this community. But it comes at a high cost that she’s not sure she’s willing to pay.

The dynamic cast of four leading women includes returning cast members Jenny Pudavick (Bailey), Brittany LeBorgne (Zoe), Heather White (Caitlin), and Maika Harper (Anna).  Meegwun Fairbrother (Butterhead), Jimmy Blais (Watio) and Shawn Youngchief (Ohserase), Dwain Murphy (Leon) reprise their roles as the men they love. Also returning, Tantoo Cardinal as Zoe’s mom, Glen Gould as Bailey’s father and Jeffrey Wetsch as James.

Mohawk Girls is created and executive produced by Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight; Tracey Deer directs the episodes and Cynthia Knight is the head writer. The series is produced by Rezolution Pictures’ Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon and Linda Ludwick, and executive produced by Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon, Linda Ludwick and Ernest Webb. Innovate By Day is the Digital Media Producer. Monika Ille is the Executive Director, Programming and Scheduling for APTN.

About Rezolution Pictures
The series is developed and produced by Rezolution Pictures’ Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon and Linda Ludwick, and executive produced by Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon, Linda Ludwick and Ernest Webb, the same team that produced the multiple-Gemini and Peabody Award-winning film, Reel Injun, as well as several award-winning documentaries and television series including Smoke Traders, Club Native, and Down The Mighty River. Rezolution Pictures’ feature film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World has won several awards, including the Sundance Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling and the Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary at the Hot Docs Festival.

Rezolution Pictures is an award-winning film, television and interactive media production company, founded by Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb, which plays a vital role in bringing cultural diversity to the North American broadcasting landscape. Since 2001 it has built itself a reputation for creating acclaimed series and one-of-a-kind productions, working with many of Canada’s best new and established talents to create unique comedy, dramatic, non-fiction and video game programming, through its sister company Minority Media.

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APTN’s Mohawk Girls ending after five seasons

It’s the end of the road for Mohawk Girls. That’s the word from co-creator, co-executive producer and director Tracey Deer, who broke the news to TV, Eh? during a one-on-one interview at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. Deer was part of a panel entitled I Am: A Discussion on the Female Gaze alongside Shoot the Messenger‘s Jennifer Holness, Degrassi‘s Courtney Jane Walker, Odd Squad‘s Robby Hoffman and moderated by Saving Hope‘s Katrina Saville.

“This is our final season,” Deer confirmed. “[Cynthia Knight] and I have always known where we wanted to get these girls, from the three-arc conception of the show, so we’re doing it.”

Filmed and set in Montreal and the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Mohawk Girls stars Brittany LeBorgne as Zoe, Heather White as Caitlin, Maika Harper as Anna and Jennifer Pudavick as Bailey. Pre-production on Season 5 begins next week; the last six episodes were greenlit by APTN two weeks ago.

Mohawk Girls has been nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Comedy Series, Best Direction in a Comedy Program or Series, Best Writing in a Comedy Program or Series and Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Comedic Role for LeBorgne.

What can fans expect from Season 5? Deer was mum on details but did say the series’ final scene makes her cry every time she thinks about it.

“The final scene is going to be traumatic [to film],” Deer admits. “There is an event that is going to take up a lot of the final episode and there is a pool involved.”

Are you upset Mohawk Girls is ending? Do you have a message for the cast and co-creators? Comment below.

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Mohawk Girls sparkle at Powwow!

Love lost, love found, love decisions and SPARKLES! Co-creators Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight jam it all in as we tied up the loose ends in the season finale of Mohawk Girls.

First I will deal with the Zoe (Brittany LeBorgne) storyline as that moved to its natural conclusion. Zoe finally hit rock bottom after last week’s scandal; her father (Erland Campbell) came to her home and delivered the election results. Not only did Zoe lose the election, she was also responsible for her mother’s (Tantoo Cardinal) loss too.  And it also appeared #Zohserase may be finished: Ohserase (Shawn Youngchief) took his leave of “sick and twisted” Zoe with fondue pot in hand! And, to top things off,  the Band Council fired Zoe as their legal counsel. Zoe has lost her entire world and has to admit the truth to her friends: she is a sex addict. The last we saw of Zoe this season, she was checking herself in for treatment.

The rest of the episode revolved around Kahnawa:ke’s annual Powwow Weekend. We caught up with Caitlin (Heather White) and Bailey (Jenny Pudavick) discussing the election when Anna (Maika Harper) rode up on her bicycle begging Caitlin’s forgiveness for sleeping with Butterhead (Meegwun Fairbrother). Caitlin wasn’t having any of that and instead helped Bailey prepare for the powwow. Bailey confided in Caitlin, revealing she slept with James (Jeffrey Wetsch). Caitlin has to wonder if Bailey is trying to sabotage the good thing she has with Watio (Jimmy Blais).

Maika Harper (Anna) taking direction from co-writer, co-producer Tracey Deer

Finally, powwow arrived and  Elijah (Gregory Odjig) witnessed Anna’s bullying and called her out on it. He reminded her that being a Mohawk isn’t about being an angry bully. These two kindred spirits spent the remainder of their time exploring Mohawk traditions together; the very thing Anna has been craving all this time.

Meanwhile, Butterhead caught up with Caitlin—OK, he actually photobombed Caitlin in a selfie she was sending to Leon—and once again he was putting the moves on her. He confessed the entire time he was with Anna he was thinking about Caitlin instead. Their fierce battle set tongues wagging and everyone was assuming Caitlin and Butterhead were back together. Caitlin had a heart-to-heart with her father (Lawrence Bayne) and she was again reminded that the future of her people depends on her settling for a Mohawk man. When she heard Butterhead singing on the powwow grounds, Caitlin decided it was time to give him one more chance. Say goodbye to #Cailon!

Caitlin (Heather White), her father (Lawrence Bayne) and Butterhead (Meegwun Fairbrother) talking with co-creator, co-producer Cynthia Knight
Caitlin (Heather White) and her father (Lawrence Bayne). [That would be me wearing the jean jacket, standing to the right of the woman in red]

In the meantime, James arrived, as promised, to catch Bailey dancing at powwow. Feeling guilty about their afternoon together, she tried to turn him away but Auntie Velma (Ashley Michaels) spotted them. Unlike all of the other non-Mohawks that Bailey has dated, Velma noticed something very different about James. Bailey is sparkling! Velma has never seen any man cause Bailey to sparkle, not even Watio (Jimmy Blais). Later, the two were questioning all of the unlikely couples: Anna is with Midas (Tanner Novlan) and Caitlin and Butterhead have reunited. A confused Bailey just didn’t understand why her friends were settling for men who don’t make them happy. And then she realized marrying Watio was settling too. Goodbye Boring #Batio and Hello Sparkling #Jailey … but it seems Watio isn’t letting go without a fight!

And that is a wrap on Season 4! Thanks to Tracey Deer, Cynthia Knight, and the entire cast and crew of Mohawk Girls for another great season! You have all set the bar pretty high and we all look forward to a #BEAST Season 5!

If you missed the season finale, you can catch it here.

What did you think of this season of Mohawk Girls? Comment below!

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