Director Biography – Lesley Johnson (I HOLD THE DEHCHO IN MY HEART)

Lesley Johnson is a director and producer working in documentary and fiction. She began her career in the Northwest Territories’ Film and Television industry, studied film in York University’s MFA Film Production program, and was a participant of RIDM’s Talent Lab. She recently completed “I Hold the Dehcho in My Heart / Sedze Tah Dehcho E’toh” with CBC Short Docs, and will be releasing her latest film “Revolution Moosehide” in 2019. Her previous short doc “Princess Jack”, won the National Screen Institute’s Blue Ant Best Documentary Award, was the winner of a Jury Award at the Audience Choice LGBTQ Festival, and was nominated for a Golden Sheaf award at the Yorkton Film Festival. Her debut short fiction “Charlie”, premiered at BFI Flare in London followed by Inside Out in Toronto. As a producer, she worked on the APTN docu-series “Dene A Journey”, the mid-length doc and interactive “Shadow of a Giant” distributed through the Vtape and the NFB, and the short fiction-hybrid “The Argument (with annotations)”, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was selected for TIFF’s Top Ten. She is a recent recipient of Telefilm’s Emerging Talent Fund to produce the feature documentary “Songs She Sings in Shadows”.

Director Statement

In the spring of 2017, I was invited by the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning to film their first ever Dehcho River semester. Myself and a small team documented a group of Indigenous students, facilitators, and elders from the North, paddle over 1200 km from Fort Providence to Fort Good Hope along the Mackenzie River, known in Dene as the “Dehcho”.

After living in the Northwest Territories for ten years and having plenty of experience working in remote locations, I was thrilled to come on board. I knew most of the participants and facilitators involved and had previously attended a Dechinta semester. Living on the river for six weeks was an incredible experience and one I will always remember and be proud of. It was also very challenging at times, with difficult circumstances to make a film under.

I made this documentary because land-based learning is an important component to education, and crucially in the Indigenous context, where it has the power to undo some of the damage inflicted by the residential school system. It was incredible to see how transformative the experience was for the students to spend time on the river learning from Dehcho and Sahtu leaders and elders, many of whom were stolen from the river as children to attend residential school. There is a poignancy to the experience for these students, where education and identity are interwoven with healing from their teachers.

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