A Vic High student film created during the pandemic that tackles the inter-generational effects of residential schools in Canada has won an award at a film festival in Australia.
The Picker was the winning entry in the school category at the Inspired Dance Film Fest Australia, which attracted more than 90 films from 16 countries. “It’s not about winning the festival,” said Vic High teacher Kerry Krich, director of the school’s dance department. “It’s about this story being told.”
The effects of residential schools, and “how those effects manifest” in subsequent generations, is what motivated choreographer Rayn Cook-Thomas to create The Picker. Featured prominently in the piece is a mask that was used by his mother, Krystal Cook, in her 2011 one-woman show, Emergence (in a nice tribute, she narrates The Picker.) The mask, originally created by artist Miles Lowry, is worn by the aggressor/antagonist in the film, and is used as a tool to symbolize the damage residential schools inflicted on his family, who are from the Kwakwaka’wakw community of Alert Bay’s ‘Namgis First Nation.
“Probably half of my living family tree attended residential schools, including my grandparents,” Cook-Thomas said. “This was an important piece that allowed me to talk about the impact that has had.”
Executive producer Krich and her students in Platform 61, an auditioned performance troupe at Vic High, teamed up with Cook-Thomas, a graduate of the Vic High dance program, to produce the 10-minute film. “There are some pretty tough stories to tell in the Indigenous world, so it is important that it is Rayn’s voice that is being heard,” Krich said. “He has the integrity, the respect of the dancers, and his choreography is brilliant.”
Written and choreographed by Cook-Thomas, who is now a second-year dance student at York University, The Picker was originally written for the stage. During his final year of high school, in 2019, Cook-Thomas and his fellow students in the Vic High dance program performed the original version at the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre in Oak Bay. A newly-choreographed version was made to suit the film format and satisfy requirements for the film festival.
Students in Platform 61 shot the performance at a proper social distance over the summer, partially as a way of keeping their skills fresh. “We were devastated when COVID hit,” Krich said. “We had a lot of work and hours put into repertory that was never going to happen. We just needed to have a focus. We wanted a project to help us stay together. But that we won an award for Rayn’s work is even better.”