Producer/Director Jason Brennan grew up immersed in the richness of his heritage. “I think everyone is influenced by their history in their youth and what they’ve lived through when it comes to their work, but in my case I see it more as the make up of who I am as opposed to being influenced by my upbringing. I grew up both as an English-speaking first nations person and a French-speaking Québecois. I would spend most of the school year in the city and then my summers on the rez. I have to admit that it is through my first nation side that I developed the interest in wanting to tell stories, I think it’s an integral part of being Indigenous. Hearing stories passed down from uncles, cousins and aunties. I also think that being someone who likes to experience things and watches closely what happens around me, this has helped me in writing, directing, and fleshing out some of the stories that I wanted to tell. I like to think that I’m someone who observes first and speaks later. I reflect on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard and then make my own assumptions and thoughts about it. But everything I create is based on living experiences. I think that’s why it gives it a certain sense of realism,” he says.
Jason’s new film, L’INHUMAIN, presents horror through an Indigenous lens. “I think we’re beyond changing representation, I think that’s already been done by other great Indigenous filmmakers in the last couple of years and we’ve moved on to just telling stories with a certain authenticity. What’s great is that we’ve moved into a place where different stories and genres are being explored from an Indigenous perspective. I don’t think that I went into my film saying that I wanted to portray this or that. I wanted to tell a story that was relatable and that explored the Wendigo story but with characters that were based on people that I knew and experiences that I had lived. As it’s mentioned in my film this is my own interpretation based on accounts and stories that I heard from elders from my community as well as some of the older people that I had crossed paths with. If this changes representation then great but first and foremost I wanted to tell the story of an indigenous main character and how his cultural dilemma is lived through this story. I wanted to tell a story that felt real to me although it dealt with a ‘somewhat’ mythical creature.”
Previous sour experiences in the industry compelled him to found his own company, Nish Media, to prioritize an indigenous workforce and develop undiscovered talent. “I got into the business after being in the ‘token Indian’ role on a few shows which left as one can expect a bitter taste in my mouth. I decided to start my company because I didn’t wanna be in that position ever again. I think that if you want to tell the stories with a certain authenticity there has to be as many Indigenous contributions as possible both in front and behind the camera. It’s important to state that in Quebec we are behind in terms of the progress that’s been achieved in the rest of Canada when it comes to indigenous filmmaking so we are still at the stage of trying to develop talent that comes outside of the TV or film realm. So we are constantly on the lookout for new voices or any potential talent in any field related to our projects. And we understand that there has to be some room for these voices to develop and also to make some errors and to learn on the fly so we do develop some projects that allow us to do that. There’s no better way for talent to develop than to actually be involved in the show, meaning that there’s only so much you can learn in a shadowing role. We’ve developed some screenwriters and some directors by putting them in positions where they are helped out by more established writers and directors and help them understand and progress. We hope that someday we will catch up to the rest of Canada and be able to hire and develop editors, directors of photography, sound persons and all the different roles that exist.”
L’INHUMAIN explores the Wendigo, a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of the Anishinaabe peoples of North America, in the context of today’s world. “The film is a contemporary take on the Wendigo story as it was told to me by my elders or people from my community. I remember growing up hearing about the Wendigo and although at first it was a bit of a joke, the kind of stories that you tell each other around the campfire to scare each other. The story grew into something more concrete and something bigger when I started hearing older people talk about it. It was then that I really started to understand the symbolism and how the story is a real mainstay in my culture. When I started hearing more about it, I thought that the themes behind the Wendigo story are still really relevant today. We are talking about selfishness, loss culture, wanting to belong, greed. The film is just that, it’s the story of a man who has lost himself. He’s lost his sense of self, lost his ties to who he is and has replaced them with certain vices. This slowly brings him closer to the Wendigo.” People going through rough times, like the main character Mathieu, are particularly vulnerable. “From what I understood, the Wendigo has always been around and preys on people when they find themselves at their lowest point. People have seen the Wendigo and have been unharmed and I’ve heard a few stories of people actually being killed by the Wendigo. I think the film walks a fine line because I know for many the Wendigo story is one that shouldn’t be shared and many others think that talking about the Wendigo will give it more power. I think this is cleverly addressed in the film since we never officially refer to what is going on as the Wendigo and rather this whole notion is alluded to.” The narrative of the Wendigo can only be authentically relayed through Indigenous perspectives. “It’s a story that I brought to the screen and then I take great great pride in being able to tell. I’m not the first filmmaker to bring the story to the screen and I think that for once, it is done taking into account the people that actually know about the cultural significance of the creature. Just in the last ten years, many non-indigenous filmmakers have tried to tell the story of the Wendigo and have failed miserably. They presented it just as a creature that hunts and kills men but it’s way more than that and I think that’s what I wanted to do is to get behind that first notion and to really understand what the story of the Wendigo truly is.”
Mathieu has recently experienced a disconnect from home and is feeling the full effect of that cultural drift. “It’s a statement made about society today that if you are an Indigenous person that decides to leave home for school or for work, you are eventually drawn away and it becomes difficult for you to keep your ties to your community. I like to credit many of the young adults that are experiencing this right now because there seems to be more of a Renaissance when it comes to being able to juggle both those lives, but for many that are around my age it seemed like society made it that you had to pick one or the other. Many that decided to leave had to go through a process of reconnection or figure out how they would coexist in both those worlds. And unfortunately as an Indigenous person, when you grow up away from home, sometimes it becomes easier to brush that side of who you are away or to self medicate to help deal with the fact that you’re feeling isolated or losing your cultural anchor. In our main characters’ case, it is easy to see or to imagine that by having chosen his profession of becoming a neurosurgeon he would’ve had to have given up a lot and gradually trips back to his current home community would have been few and far in between. Hence that’s why he would’ve lost most of his ties and most of his culture.” The Wendigo is a metaphor for this denial of self. “Much like everything else that comes with different teachings in Anishnaabe culture, there’s always more to a certain story to help us understand things about life. That’s what I love about storytelling in my community, because I don’t want to speak for anybody else’s community, there is always a way to help you understand things or teach you things beyond the first degree.”
While Jason enjoys directing, his priority is to help others bring their art to fruition. “To be honest, I’m more known as a producer than I am a writer director, so my plan is still to help Indigenous writers and directors with their own projects first. I think I’ll eventually write and direct something else, but for the time being I’m going to focus on producing. I’m also very aware that I am fortunate for my position as an Indigenous creator and that this should come as a responsibility to allow other people to tell their stories.” He has many other projects to focus on! “I just completed and finished producing a drama miniseries for our National French broadcaster Radio-Canada here in Quebec. This series is called POUR TOI FLORA and explores the impacts of residential schools and how it affects a certain family over the span of 50 years. It’s written and directed by Sonia Bonspille Boileau, who is a wonderful writer and director. It’s one of the first 100% created Indigenous drama series made in Canada. So far it’s been extremely well received in Quebec and now we just signed a deal to bring it to international audiences. It has been selected into a few major television festivals around the world. We are so excited. We are also developing a few other drama series that we are hoping will get greenlit in the next few years. I’m also producing a few documentary series which will have a few new writers and directors attached to them. I do have a few ideas for my next project as a writer/director, but I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be a series or a film. It is once again exploring one of those unsolved or unexplained phenomena in Anishnaabe culture and using it as a catalyst to explore the Rez and Non-Indigenous town coexistence.” Just as he was motivated by those before him, Jason will inspire countless other young Indigenous creatives.