What Brings Us Here – the National Film Board’s (NFB) latest social media project – is an experimental photo essay launched through Instagram.
Through it, four photographers document the activity of local Indigenous-led direct action groups Bear Clan Patrol and Drag the Red.
“We are asking volunteers from these groups, ‘What brings you here to do this work?’” NFB producer and project co-creator Alicia Smith says. “And the response is so varied and so complex, with such a range of experience from different perspectives, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
Photographer Karen Asher says every participant has a different reason for showing up.
“Either they just didn’t want to be a bystander, so they decided to get involved, or they have been dealt a terrible loss first-hand and they can’t sit back,” Asher says.
Conceived as a companion piece to NFB short film this river, which focuses on the experiences of Katherena Vermette and Kyle Kematch as they navigate personal loss and a conflicted relationship with the Red River, What Brings Us Here pans out to reveal a larger picture.
Smith says the projected 80-post story arc of the project begins with the Bear Clan Patrol, a high-energy organization that walks the North End as a positive community presence, and transitions toward Drag the Red, a group that searches the Red River for evidence of missing people.
Although conducting different work, the two groups act in complementarity.
Bear Clan Patrol focuses on community support and crime prevention, while Drag the Red looks for answers to crimes already committed as a step toward bringing some semblance of closure to those with missing family members.
“We decided to start with Bear Clan to introduce people in Winnipeg to that work, and we’ve been moving through progressively more painful stories. We want to tie in this idea of the river slowing down and winter setting in – such a huge occurrence in the psyche of Winnipeggers – and what that means for families who are still searching,” Smith says.
Asher says it has been emotional to go back and read the posts of pictures she has taken for What Brings Us Here.
“I’ll get tagged when it is one of my photos, and it is so overwhelming. Here I’ve photographed these people, but I didn’t know their story. It just goes to show that you never know where people are coming from.”
According to Smith, the Instagram project serves to offer a different perspective on a place Winnipeggers think they already know, to reach beyond and make connection with others.
“We all live here, we all have this shared history, so part of this project is getting out of the assumption that it is just one community’s issue,” Smith says.
She says the project is helping to create awareness and start important dialogue between communities.