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When A.W. Hopkins worked for CTV, he traveled all over the country producing Indigenous current events stories. Even when he was in the most remote areas of Canada, local kids always had the same question once they found out Hopkins was based in Vancouver: “Have you ever been to Wreck Beach?”
Hopkins says that when Bell took over CTV and cut a lot of the local programming, he saw it as an opportunity to focus on something he’d always wanted to do: write. He took classes and read books and scribbled away, but nothing stuck. “After a year, it seemed like I wasn’t getting very far because I was doing what I was seeing on TV,” explains Hopkins, “and I thought, I think I have to write something that’s really personal.”
Thinking back to his roots on the N’Quatqua reserve and his cross-Canada travels, the artist decided to tackle a film genre he’d always admired: the road trip film. He wrote a 10-minute comedy, Indian Road Trip, in which a pair of Indigenous guys leave the reserve to go on the road trip of a lifetime. The destination? Wreck Beach, of course.
“I had just spent about ten years doing Indigenous social justice work, covering AIDS, HIV, fetal alcohol syndrome, and death in custody,” says Hopkins, “And I wanted to do something that shows a different side of Indigenous people, something that is humourous and captures the people in an authentic way.”
His short got into the Whistler Film Festival’s Indigenous Filmmaker Fellowship in 2015, then the Screenwriters Lab in 2016, where Hopkins extended it into a feature-length script. He got a micro-budget grant from Telus and shot the feature in Merritt in the summer of 2017. “90% of the crew and cast were Indigenous people, and the Indigenous people on the reserves—the locals—were so kind and generous,” remember Hopkins. “We were able to use their reserves and their roads and their houses for free, and they just welcomed us with open arms.”
But after shooting, Hopkins and his team hit a roadblock. Their money for post-production fell through. They tried their best to get funding elsewhere, but no one picked it up. They had all the footage and no means to put it together. But word was spreading. “A lot of people in the local Indigenous filmmaking industry knew about the film,” says Hopkins. After laying dormant for a while, Indian Road Trip got another chance: the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) contacted Hopkins and said they were interested in helping finance the film.
This month is Indian Road Trip’s world premier, hosted by the Whistler Film Festival. “We are back at Whistler, so we’ve come full circle,” says Hopkins. That happens to be his traditional territory as well— the N’Quatqua land is just past Whistler.
Indian Road Trip celebrates Indigenous humour and joy. “That humour is missing in a lot of fiction, in a lot of documentary, in a lot of the reporting on Indigenous people,” says Hopkins, “and it’s really a shame.” The quirkiness and comedy is specifically for the film’s Indigenous audience. “I focused on humour that Indigenous people would get, not necessarily anybody else—I wasn’t trying to pander to a large white audience,” says Hopkins. “I am really hoping that Indigenous people get it, that they say, ‘Hey, that’s what it’s like.’”
You can watch Indian Road Trip at the virtual Whistler Film Fest on Tuesday, December 15. Find more info here. And keep an eye out for Cloudstriker, Hopkins’ next project. In this work of fiction, a young man escapes from a residential school and raises a small army of warriors to rescue the children he left behind. “It’s kind of a western,” says Hopkins. “I’ve done a road trip drama Indigenous-style, and now I’m doing a western Indigenous-style. My style.”