‘Bee Nation’ director aims to break down stereotypes about First Nations

'Bee Nation' doc aims to break down stereotypes

TORONTO — How do you spell “empowering?”

It’s a word Lana Slezic uses often as she describes her new documentary “Bee Nation,” which is the opening-night film for the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, kicking off Thursday.

The film documents Canada’s first-ever provincewide First Nations Spelling Bee, held in Saskatchewan last year. But it touches on a much deeper story, says Slezic.

“I think these kids, they’re underdogs in a way and they succeed and we champion them the whole way through,” she says.

“I want to break down stereotypes with this film. There shouldn’t be an ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We’re all just people. So I think when you’re in the homes of the First Nations families that are in the film, you feel that.

“It’s a really intimate setting and you get to know them and you see love and warmth and support between parents and the kids. And we can all relate to that.”

The moving documentary profiles six First Nations students as they compete in the English-language bee in North Battleford, Sask., in the hopes of making it to the national championships in Toronto.

They include William, a Grade 3 student, who is competitive and wants to be a doctor. Makayla, a whip-smart Grade 5 student who declares: “One day I want to go off the reserve and see what’s out there.” And Thomas, another Grade 5 student, who says he’s excited to participate in the bee because it might mean he can go to Toronto.

“Sometimes I was crying, sometimes I was laughing,” says Slezic. “The expressions on their faces, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and it’s not a short thing — it’s like a six-hour thing.

“It takes a long time and especially when my kids — I call them my kids — when they would get up onstage … it was nerve-racking.

“That’s actually one of the words: ‘Nerve-racking.'”

Slezic first learned of the bee while looking online for a way to help her eight-year-old son spell better. Ten days later, she was on a plane to the province to speak with the children’s families and teachers on different reserves about what the bee meant to them.

Along the way she also learned about the underfunding First Nations schools face.

“They were so excited about the spelling bee because they’d never had one before,” says Slezic. “I think it was a real source of pride for them.”

Slezic recalls bee organizer Pauline Favel telling her: “‘Why not us? Why shouldn’t we be a part of this? We can do this, too. Our kids can do this, too.'”

Cameras follow three of the kids as they make it to the nationals in Toronto to compete against students of all backgrounds.

“It has changed them, given them a new confidence that they never had, and opportunity, too,” says Slezic. “They’d never been on a plane before, never went to a big city like Toronto before. So it’s really opened up horizons for them that they didn’t expect.”

It also enriched their parents’ lives.

“Seeing their children grow, I think it really moved them, empowered them, made them want to push them even more,” says Slezic.

She says she’s still in touch with the kids. One of them, William Kaysaywaysemat, is scheduled to attend Hot Docs with his family. Also scheduled to attend is Evan Taypotat, principal of Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School.

Hot Docs runs through May 7 with a total of 230 titles from 58 countries.

———

Online: https://www.hotdocs.ca/

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to fall fake eagle tree at Ogden Point

Last year a fake tree was installed to try to entice eagles to stay in the area, without much success

Ambitious B.C. Aviation Museum need $10M to get iconic Lancaster back in the air

Volunteers flock to work on bomber, restoration expected to take 10 years

Saanich to potentially host first hydrogen fuel station on Vancouver Island

Station proposed for corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue

Three children to run Victoria as ‘Mayors’ on Tuesday

Local kids will be honorary mayors for a day

Langford man sentenced to 15 months for child pornography collection

Andre Mollon sentenced for posession of more than 1,000 child pornography images and 70 videos

Victoria hosts ‘Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave’

The hockey cave was recently featured on a Netflix special

Inspirational Vancouver Island youngster dies after battle with brain cancer

Kaiden Finley ‘was seriously the strongest 11-year-old’

Is it a homicide? B.C. woman dies in hospital, seven months after being shot

Stepfather think Chilliwack case should now be a homicide, but IHIT has not confirmed anything

Indecent caller handed 18-month conditional sentence

Vancouver Island man pleaded guilty to making indecent phone and video calls to women across B.C.

Sources say Trudeau rejected Wilson-Raybould’s conservative pick for high court

Wilson-Raybould said Monday “there was no conflict between the PM and myself”

First Nations public art piece stolen in Nanaimo

Spindle Whorl went missing over the weekend, according to Nanaimo RCMP

Father-son duo at B.C. Children’s Hospital helps new dads fight depression

The pair teamed up to introduce the only known research-based mindfulness workshop for new dads

Mexican restaurant in B.C. told to take down Mexican flag

General manager of Primo’s Mexican Grill in White Rock: ‘I’ve never heard of anything like this’

B.C. NDP moves to provide tax credits, tax cut for LNG Canada

Provincial sales tax break of $596 million repayable after construction

Most Read