Kaayla Whachell was on set when she got the call to tell her she had won a $20,000 film grant.
“So I was running around, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, who’s this number?’ ” said Whachell, who is originally from Abbotsford but now works in Vancouver’s film industry.
“I had to go off set for five minutes just to scream and be excited and then go back to work.”
Whachell has worked on a number of projects through Storyhive, Telus’s platform to support and fund independent filmmakers, but Laura’s Report will be Whachell’s first in several years as a director, having worked mostly as cinematographer.
“There are a lot of female directors, but there are very few female cinematographers. So I’ve been trying to focus on that and get my name out there, because a lot of women quit right away, because there’s a lot of politics with it,” Whachell said.
“Being a cinematographer, working so closely with directors the past few years, I definitely feel confident in that I know what I want and I know how to achieve it, and I’ll be able to communicate that with my cinematographer very clearly.”
Laura’s Report explores the nuances of Indigenous identity that can be lost in the criminal justice system, told through Laura’s experience with a Gladue report. A Gladue report is ordered by courts to explore how traumas resulting from colonialism have led an Indigenous person to the criminal justice system. They are submitted as mitigating factors for judges to consider in sentencing.
In Laura’s case, she is hoping a reduced sentence will help her regain custody of her child.
But Laura finds herself caught up in a process that she feels demeans her life experiences and reduces her to Indigenous stereotypes.
“[Laura] never thought of herself as somebody that has undergone a lot of pain or trauma,” Whachell said. “She just thought of it as her life and just accepted it, but her Gladue writer, just by not being properly trained, starts to suggest that she should be more upset about things that have happened in her life.”
Whachell says the idea came from film work she has been doing recently with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which introduced her to people who had undergone Gladue reports.
“The film is completely fictional, but I just started to think more about it, and basically came up with the script through questions that I had about the process, myself. So the problem is not supposed to be: Is a Gladue report good or bad? It’s more: Is there maybe a problem with the system?”
The grant awarded for Laura’s Report is part of the Storyhive’s first Indigenous Storyteller grant, totalling $600,000 among 30 B.C. and Alberta residents.
The final projects will be available in fall 2019 on Telus’s on-demand TV service, and Whachell said she will be able to submit her project to film festivals.