Ever since she was a teenager, Thirza Cuthand has been expressing herself through film. Now, she’s turned her lifelong passion into a career.
Hailing from Saskatoon, Thirza is a self-employed filmmaker of Plains Cree and Scottish descent. Although she is based in Toronto, her films have screened at festivals internationally, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, ImagineNATIVE in Toronto, and the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany.
TalentEgg caught up with Thirza to learn a little bit more about her journey as an independent filmmaker working in the Aboriginal community and gain insight into what it takes to succeed in the field.
Read on to learn what she had to say!
“When did you first become interested in film?”
Thirza: “I first became interested as a teen. There was a queer film festival in Saskatoon that did a weekend workshop in making short videos. I made a video called ‘Lessons In Baby Dyke Theory,’ and it ended up being screened at queer festivals all over the world. So I have been making shorts ever since. That was in 1995.”
“Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?”
Thirza: “I think just the fact that it is something I love to do made me decide to pursue it. I love all aspects, from conceiving an idea to production to post. There is something about each stage of making a film that keeps me engaged.”
“As an Aboriginal filmmaker, was there anyone who encouraged you to pursue this career path?”
Thirza: “When I first started out, I got a lot of support from other Aboriginal filmmakers like Dana Claxton and Loretta Todd. Actually, I have found most Aboriginal filmmakers to be supportive of each other, but particularly other women filmmakers.”
“What types of challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with them?”
Thirza: “I think often not being funded enough has been a challenge. So far, I have dealt with it by self-funding a lot of my shorts. It sounds impressive to say I made my money back on almost all of them, until I tell you the budget for most of them was a hundred dollars or so!”
“In your opinion, what has been your biggest career success so far? How did you feel when you achieved it?”
Thirza: “I think writing the screenplay for my feature Macîskotêw (which means Evil Fire [in Cree]) in grad school was my biggest success so far, only because it’s such a large project that means so much to me. I’m hoping to find a producer and funding in the next while.”
“Why did you decide to focus your film career on the Aboriginal community?”
Thirza: “I think it’s because it’s the community I come from. Like a lot of Aboriginal kids, I grew up with poor representation in the media, and I’ve always felt that creating deeper depictions of my family and community is important. Not necessarily only “positive” images, but more nuanced and believable images.”
“In what ways does your work reflect your heritage and the Aboriginal community at large?”
Thirza: “I made a feature documentary about my family’s history called Homelands – it involved interviews with my Cree Grandpa and my Scots Grandma and a trip around our family’s homelands here in Canada and the States and over in Scotland. By doing that doc, I learned about the migratory routes of the Crees from Siberia down through the Rockies and across Canada. There’s a lot of debate about how we got here, and people don’t like the Siberia theory [the Bering Strait theory], but my Grandpa told me about the similarities between ourselves and the people in Siberia.
I’ve also made a short called 2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99, which is a faux infomercial about a support line for Two Spirit people. I think a lot of work made about that particular segment of the Aboriginal community (LGBT Aboriginal people) has been quite sad, so it was nice to do a comedy.”
“Would you encourage Aboriginal students and new grads to pursue a career in film?”
Thirza: “Yes! It may not always be the most well-paying job, but having the skills and tools to tell a story through film is empowering. There are also a lot of jobs which you can apply your skills to when you’re not working on your own projects.”
“What advice would you give them?”
Thirza: “Go to school, if you can, and go to workshops. If you can’t do a post-secondary program in film, you can still pick up a lot of skills through workshops at Artist Run production centres like Charles Street Video here in Toronto or VIVO in Vancouver.”
“What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?”
Thirza: “Get trained in public speaking because you will have to present your work to classes and festivals, and it’s good to know enough concepts around your work to talk about.”
“What do you find most fulfilling about working within the Aboriginal community?”
Thirza: “I think the incredible talent within our community is amazing. I can just go on my Facebook and see so many skilled dancers, actors, singers and musicians, and of course filmmakers, academics, writers. We really are lucky.”