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New film festival shines light on Vancouver Island Indigenous stories

Mini film festival a first for the Chemainus Theatre
Chemainus Theatre is hosting a mini film festival for the first time, March 4 and 5. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Chemainus Theatre Festival is exploring new mediums and opening for its first-ever mini film festival over two days, March 4 and 5, featuring artists and filmmakers from around the region.

The festival highlights Indigenous artists and stories and will include a question-and-answer session with some filmmakers. Films include: the public theatrical premiere of Tzouhalem; Dust N’ Bones by Orca Cove Media; and Penelakut: Returning to The Healing Circle by Gumboot Productions.

“We look forward to welcoming people back to the space and people are welcome to attend all of the films, or come on a show-by-show basis,” said CTF artistic director Mark DuMez.

He added CTF made connections with friends in the film industry when the theatre was closed to the public in 2021.

“We were thankful to be able to support AXIS theatre with some costume resources for a screening at a later date,” DuMez indicated.

“Also over the year, Leslie Bland, who directed and performed on the Chemainus Theatre stage, reconnected along with Harold C. Joe and Orca Cove Media about two possible films screening, along with consulting with CTF on some online activity we were producing. Around the same time, Peter Campbell of Gumboot Productions approached us about screening, but we had to continually move things down the road due to 2021 COVID related restrictions and closures.

“This year, we are excited to have the opportunity to move forward with these plans by putting it all together and to showcase three of the offerings on the first weekend in March.”

Orca Cove Media produces film, television and digital media projects with distinctive and authentic First Nations content, empowering Indigenous people to share their stories in a collaboration between Joe and Bland of Less Bland Productions.

As a member of Cowichan Tribes, Joe is a cultural worker, archeology consultant, filmmaker and producer. Bland has written, directed and performed in more than 150 professional films, television, radio and live theatre projects.

Gumboot Productions is a Canadian film and television production company based in Victoria and has developed a strong reputation for story-telling excellence through award-winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Campbell.

There will also be a sneak peak of Seasiders, a new series of webisodes created for children featuring regional elders, knowledge keepers and advocates. The series focuses on health, hope and resilience.

“We are thankful filmmakers will be part of conversations for screenings,” noted DuMez.

Following are descriptions and content for the shows in the words of the filmmakers:

Friday, March 4 Tzouhalem

Tickets: $15 (plus tax)

Doors open and pre-show: 6:30 p.m., showtime 7 p.m. (90 minutes), question and answer session to follow.


Tzouhalem, chief of the Cowichan First Nation during the mid-1800s, is one of the most fascinating and polarizing figures in Canadian history. His story is a matter of historic record, yet is the subject of legend. There is a mountain, road and other landmarks on Cowichan territory named after him.

It is generally believed Tzouhalem, a deformed Indigenous boy, through his strength of character and mystical powers, taught to him by his grandmother, subdued his rivals and transformed himself into the most powerful First Nations leader in the Pacific Northwest before succumbing to his own immorality.

This documentary, through interviews and creative re-enactments, examines the near-mythic figure of Chief Tzouhalem, the account of his life from both historians and First Nations Elders, the folkloric tales concerning him, his impact on the modern relationship between the Crown and First Nations, and how his legend remains alive to this day.

Saturday, March 5 Dust N’ Bones

Tickets: $15 (plus tax)

Doors open and pre-show: 2 p.m., showtime 2:30 p.m. (65 minutes), question and answer session to follow.


Dust n’ Bones is a documentary that examines the legal issues, political controversies and historic mysteries that threaten the preservation and rededication of First Nations artifacts, burial sites and remains. Framed around the impending transfer of funerary artifacts from the Royal BC Museum to traditional Cowichan territory, these themes are realized through the POV of traditional Cowichan former gravedigger, filmmaker and archaeological consultant Harold Joe.

Complimenting both the personal and professional journey of Joe are the perspectives of the archaeologists, elders, professors and museum curators he encounters through his work. The insights of these subjects are told through one-on-one interviews hosted by Joe, as well as dramatic recreations, archival and creative location footage that speaks to their experiences.

Saturday, March 5 Penelakut: Returning to the Healing Circle

Tickets: $15 (plus tax)

Doors open and pre-show: 6:30 p.m., showtime 7:15 p.m. (30 minutes), question and answer session to follow.


In Penelakut: Returning to the Healing Circle, a filmmaker returns to an island off the coast of B.C. 25 years after documenting abuse at an Indian Residential School. It looks at the dramatic changes on the island and how the intergenerational survivors have dealt with living in the shadow of their parents’ trauma.

Tickets are available by calling 1-800-565-7738, or online at Access tickets are available at little or no cost through partners BMO and the Golden Neighbour Program, with information on the website.