Tag Archives: APTN

Nations at War returns to APTN for stories of North American conflict

Nations at War is about the conflicts Indigenous groups have had between each other and outside forces throughout North American history, but the goal of the program—returning for Season 2 on APTN this Saturday—isn’t to celebrate the violence. Rather, it’s to show how damaging it is.

“I want people to realize that war is the least effective and worst option to resolve any issue,” says Tim Johnson. “It is almost always instigated by someone who is looking for an easy path to success or is really desperate.” Created by Johnson, the first season of Nations at War outlined how a continent of nations became dominated by three. The sophomore go-round of 13 instalments examines the impact of migration and the arrival of newcomers on those nations.

Nations at War is the kind of program that should be part of Canadian school curriculum. I learned more about how First Nations groups were pushed out of their land by Europeans in one 22-minute episode than I did a whole course of Canadian history in high school. Narrated by David Lyle—and featuring experts like Simon Fraser Professor of Archaeology, Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn—reenactments, stock footage, breathtaking CGI and stunning music, Nations at War gallops at a breakneck, exhilarating pace. I headed to Google several times during a screener of Episode 11, “Broken Promises,” for more information.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” says producer and Métis filmmaker Jason Friesen (Health Nutz). “Tim is very enthusiastic and a knowledgeable person about history. It got the wheels turning for me, creatively, and we all need to know more about our history.”

Johnson did an incredible amount of reading in preparation for Nations at War. Growing up in Halifax, his junior high history classes recalled the Mi’kmaq peoples of the Maritimes. For him, Canadian history meant Indigenous Peoples, followed by the invasion of the English and the French. When it came to creating Nations at War, it was all about telling the human story, and the more obscure or interesting the better.

“Jason and I sat down with my bullet-point list and said, ‘OK, why is this story good?'” recalls Johnson. “Jason is Métis, so one of the things he said was, ‘I want to see Métis stories.'”

As Nations at War tells, for the majority of human history, North America’s population was entirely Indigenous. Then, in the early 1600s, Europeans began to establish colonies along the Atlantic coast. These settlements became gateways through which millions of people would eventually flow west, creating demand for new land.

Europeans weren’t the only people creating chaos as they settled across North America. The Ojibwe and Lakota were already on the move, and their migration created a domino effect which provoked conflict and cultural change, as peoples who already called the west home fought to defend their territory.

“I want people to tune in and have those moments of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ Googling it and opening things up to conversation,” Friesen says. “People get certain ideas about what they’ve read or been told in the past, and the way we present it gives many different perspectives.”

Nations at War airs Saturdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on APTN.

Images courtesy of Athan Merrick.


Indigenous songwriters take centre stage in APTN’s Amplify

I’m a huge fan of music documentaries and count Soundbreaking, It Might get Loud, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage and Sonic Highways among my favourites. I’ll add Amplify to the mix.

Debuting Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern on APTN, Amplify was created by Métis writer, director, musician and cinematographer Shane Belcourt, and focuses on Indigenous songwriters and those that have inspired them. What sets Amplify apart is not only the subject matter—songwriter Cheryl L’Hirondelle (above) and author Robin Wall Kimmerer are showcased in Episode 1—but the look of each of the 13 episodes. Rather than simple talking heads inter-cut with performances, the series’ cameras pause on flowers waving in a breeze, a tumbledown barn in a field, or ripples on a pond.

We spoke to Shane Belcourt about how Amplify came about, and what he hopes viewers will experience as they watch it.

What made you create Amplify?
Shane Belcourt: The producers that I work with wanted to make a music documentary series. The default for that kind of music documentary series is usually the biography series, ‘Here’s the musician, here’s what they’ve done.’ I mean, sure I like them, but I want to watch a TV show that has some artistry behind it, that has some kind of uniqueness that I can’t get anywhere else. I was quite inspired by Dave Grohl’s HBO documentary series, Sonic Highways, as well as the Netflix series, a very popular one, Chef’s Table.

I thought, ‘There’s something about both of these documentaries, the way that they’re structured and the pacing and the points that they bring out.’ But the other big one was when you think about going to musicians and saying, ‘Hey, you’re great. Tell me why you’re great. Rolling,’ they’re going to be like, ‘Uh, no thanks.’

Shane Belcourt

But if you said, ‘Hey, what’s something that you’ve read recently or thought about, or something in our Indigenous world that you’re really excited to explore and think about that’s really shaped you? Will you tell me about that?’ And, of course, every musician is like, ‘Oh yeah, hey, you should read this and I love this part and that part. And here’s what it means to me.’ Through that micro focus, you get the macro feeling of who this person really is. So you get the biography, you get the feeling of who this person is through focusing on one thing that they’re excited to talk about.

One of the things that struck me were the times you’re showing a barn in a field or some flowers. Clearly that was a conscious decision on your part to make this different.
SB: Yeah. I’ve got to really tip my hat to the broadcaster, APTN. I sold them originally from the lookbook and from the pitch deck. I said, ‘Listen. I want to do something that has the pacing, like Chef’s Table, that’s very meditative, that takes time to linger on a shot. We’re in no rush.’

And to their credit, they said, ‘Great.’ One of my friends has this great saying. He’s actually musician. He said, ‘When the world runs, walk slow. When the world goes slow, start running. If you want to stand out, do the opposite.’ And so I think that there’s a history now of documentaries. There’s so many good documentaries. And I’m inspired by the visual treatment that we’re all pushing to.

How did you decide on the songwriters you were going to include?
SB: I work really closely with producer Michelle St. John, and she knows everybody. She’s great. We thought, ‘OK, well, we know what the recipe of the show is: Songwriter + inspiration = an episode.’ So we thought, ‘OK, well, who are 13 songwriters that we’d love to spend time with who we know are articulate, and also a mix between somebody who’s known like iskwē and someone who’s less known like Lacey Hill?’ We definitely wanted to make a list that had a lot of Indigenous female performers. So that was also a juggling act. You make your big list.

Author Robin Wall Kimmerer

And I would say 80 per cent agreed right off. We called them. They’re like, ‘We love this idea. Totally interested. We’re in.’ And while we made that list of songwriters, we also then made a parallel list of what director would be perfect to work with that songwriter.

One of the things that I enjoyed is you had each person introduce themselves in their Indigenous language.
SB: Yeah. So much of welcoming and greeting yourself and introducing yourself to the space or to the people who you’re sharing that space with is to express who you are and where you’re from and what your community and nation is. Who holds you, what group has brought you forward as opposed to, ‘I’m this isolated person named Dale or Bob or whatever.’ That was something that we wanted, too. It just made sense to do that. And the other thing too, is that the musicality of the language was something that we just love to hear. It just gives them a little flavour of something that just to me, sounds a little sweeter and pulls the audience in a little further as they read the subtitles, but hear the sound for most of the people who don’t speak Ojibway.

When people tune in and watch Amplify, what are you hoping that they do? Do you want them to hit up iTunes and look for this music and start Googling these artists and the people who inspired them?
SB: That’s just it. You just nailed it right there. The hope that someone watching the show is that for a half-hour TV block, they get to sit down and be transported into a place that has these unusual and new characters and voices and sounds. And then at the end of it, they’re just thinking a couple of things. One is, for something like in the pilot, ‘I have to go buy a copy of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book. I want to read it.’ That’s what you hope because it’s such a great book. And then, ‘Oh, I want to check out Cheryl L’Hirondelle. I love the sound of her stuff. It’s so interesting.’ I’m someone who as an artist, I guess ultimately whenever I watch a great movie or a great show, I want to make something. It inspires me to be creative and do what I do. So I hope, ultimately, people watch it and go, ‘I want to sit down and write a song,’ or whatever it is that they do to get out there and just be creative.

Amplify airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on APTN.


Season 2 of Nations at War debuts September 19 on APTN

From a media release:

Producer, Writer, Director Jason Friesen of Chasing Pictures Inc., and Creator/Writer Tim Johnson will premiere the second season of Nations at War, a documentary TV series on September 19 on APTN.  Friesen (Health Nutz) is a BC Metis filmmaker; and Johnson is a writer and story editor with a BA in History from Nova Scotia.

For centuries, the mass migration of peoples across North America has reshaped the face of the continent. From the 17th century migrations of the Ojibwe, to the 19th-century flood of American settlers. Standing in their way were nations who battled to defend their ancient homes.

For the majority of human history, North America’s population was entirely Indigenous in its character. Then in the early 1600s Europeans began to establish colonies along the Atlantic coast. These settlements became gateways through which millions of people would eventually flow west, creating incessant demand for new land.

However, these foreigners were not the only migrants creating chaos as they claimed new homes across North America. Nations like the Ojibwe and Lakota were already on the move. Their migration created a domino effect which provoked conflict and cultural change, as peoples who already called the west home fought to defend their territory.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the wars created by mass migration would transform North America into the continent we know today.  Nations at War is hosted by David H. Lyle (Arrow, Arctic Air); and features Simon Fraser Professor of Archeology, Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn.

Nations at War is produced by Chasing Pictures Inc. with the participation of the Canada Media Fund, and in association with APTN.



Original APTN series Amplify starring Indigenous singer-songwriters to air Friday, Sept. 11th

From a media release:

From Wolfwalker Productions and Wabung Anung Films comes original series AMPLIFY. The series is set to air its first two episodes on APTN beginning on Friday, Sept. 11th at 8pm ET. The series is made up of 13 – 22 minute episodes and following the Sept 11th airdate, a new episode will air each week in English and separately in Ojibway.

The premise of the anthology series is to invite an Indigenous songwriter to find a piece of inspiration (whether it be a book, art piece, belief, etc.) and write a song about it. Each episode is a platform for Indigenous songwriters and Indigenous knowledge keepers to share ideas about a specific topic close to them and create music out of it. Each episode ends with a music video of the song that was created based on the theme in the episode.

The series is produced by Michelle St. John (Colonization Road) and Shane Belcourt (Red Rover) from Wolfwalker Productions and Jeremy Edwardes (Kaha:wi – the Cycle of Life) from Wabung Anung Film Co. AMPLIFY is created by Shane Belcourt and the executive producers are Jim Compton and R. Todd Ivey.


Third and final season of Tribal Police Files in production

From a media release:

Steve Sxwithul’txw of OCM3 Productions is pleased to announce the start of production of Season 3 of Tribal Police Files, a documentary TV series on APTN, July 25 – August 15, 2020. Safety protocols for motion picture and television production will be in place to ensure a safe return to production. All reasonable precautions will be followed to protect the community, cast and crew.

This new season will be filmed in the Tsuut’ina Nation, located outside of Calgary, Alberta.  This season’s thirteen half-hour episodes will take us into the heart-stopping and challenging world of tribal police officers on the frontlines of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service.

Steve Sxwithul’txw is a First Nations director, producer and executive producer. As a former police officer from B.C., Sxwithul’txw also has a unique perspective and unprecedented access to the community of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Tribal Police Files follows the tribal police officers as they put their lives on the line to keep their communities safe, healthy and proud. The series will also be translated into Tsuut’ina, the language of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Unlike traditional cop shows, Tribal Police Files will uniquely balance police interaction with community members, showcase the police officers’ personal lives, and highlight the beauty of Indigenous culture and traditional lands. Viewers will ride along with the officers as they respond to calls, not knowing the challenges that lie ahead. Tribal Police Files recognizes the police officers’ incredible work and instills pride, healing and strength in its communities.

OCM 3 Productions
Tribal Police Files is produced and directed by Steve Sxwithul’txw. His previous series, Warrior Games, won four Leo Awards for, Best Information/Reality Series, Best Host, Best Screenwriting and Best Cinematography.

Tribal Police Files is produced with the support of the Canada Media Fund, APTN and the National Bank of Canada.