If every picture tells a story, filmmaker Cameron Monkman is counting on several stories to reveal the big picture.
His new film, Missing: The Documentary, is about the nearly 1,200 murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) in Canada, told through the stories of seven people: victims, advocates and celebrity supporters.
“It was heartbreaking to sit down and hear what [John Fox Sr.] had to say - a father who had to bury his daughter who had been thrown off the 24th floor,” recalls Monkman, also known as rapper Young Jibwe. “That’s why I wanted to put this documentary together.”
Forty-nine per cent of the murdered women in Manitoba are Indigenous, yet they make up only 4.3 per cent of the total female population in Canada according to the RCMP’s Report of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In real numbers, that’s 1,017 murdered and 164 missing across Canada and a total of 1,181 since 1980. Over 220 of these cases remain unsolved.
“We need to do this [the documentary], not just for me, but for the families,” the Toronto-based filmmaker, who originally hails from Winnipeg, says. “We need to draw attention to these issues.”
To complete the year-long project, Monkman worked with a team that included three camera people in different cities. The film is characterized by intimate moments with its subjects and narration that is kept to a bare minimum.
“I just wanted to hit record and let them speak,” he says, “I didn’t want to be the centre of attention.”
While the statistics would indicate that MMIW is indeed a crisis, Monkman contends it is a symptom, a trickle down issue from such larger problems as poverty, racism, and addiction.
“(MMIW) is one issue, and you have to focus on that,” Aaron Peters, a local Aboriginal musician who filmed the Winnipeg interviews for the documentary, says. “But if you back up, the picture is huge.”
Monkman and his family have been directly affected by many of these issues at various stages of their lives.
While his mother battled addiction, Monkman bounced around in foster homes and lived with his grandparents, before moving out on his own at 19. He experienced homelessness in Toronto while he was battling his own demons.
“But I can’t sit in that one spot and say, ‘Oh, I’ve had a bad life,’” he explains. “I wanted to change, I wanted to bethe change.”
He kicked the drugs, alcohol, and self-destructive behaviour and stopped associating with gang members.
“Not for anyone else, but for me,” he says. “You can’t help anyone else until you help yourself.”
The change was dramatic, he got serious about his music and his community.
“I learned how to be humble, how to have respect for people and how to have respect for myself, how to be proactive,” he says. “When there’s things in the community I want to see changed, I need to go out and do things.”
“We have to collaborate with one another, to have the story end in a different way than it has for so many of us,” Peters says. “We need to come together, we need to speak about the issues and the way Cameron is going about this [documentary] is just that, getting people to collaborate.”
Missing: The Documentary can be viewed on Young Jibwe’s YouTube channel, AMGVEVO.