Thomas King, acclaimed author, educator and broadcaster, took part in the annual Sheridan Reads community-wide reading experience in November 2016 to discuss his seminal book: The Inconvenient Indian. A long-standing Professor of Animation and fan of King’s writing, Nancy Beiman, attended the event in hopes of getting her copy of his book signed. After being introduced by Paula Laing, Manager of Indigenous Learning and Support, and learning of Beiman’s work, King excitedly stated his long-time wish to animate one of his stories.
From that encounter, Beiman, Dean Ronni Rosenberg of the Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design and Associate Dean Angela Stukator of the Bachelor of Animation program, set out to cultivate this collaboration and see how Sheridan could apply one of its longest-standing disciplines to King’s works.
Writing began almost immediately on what would develop into the short film titled A Short History of Indians in Canada, based on the title story of King’s collection published back in 2005. The story, told almost entirely through dialogue, is about a traveling businessman and his conversations with a hotel doorman and two city workers in Toronto as he embarks on a symbolic tour of Canada’s dark relationship with its Indigenous peoples.
Working in animation presented King with an opportunity to present the story with a different set of creative considerations. The doorman was reimagined as a mischievous, shapeshifting coyote, an animal that is frequently depicted as a trickster-type character in some Indigenous stories. Since the original stories were published more than a decade ago, city landmarks such as the new Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square and the ubiquitous presence of smartphones were added to situate the animation and to touch on issues relevant to a modern-day setting.
After five drafts of the script were written, production began. Beiman led the project with a group of second and third-year Animation co-op students who worked as layout and background artists, animators and assistant animators. The film’s soundtrack includes a Round Dance mix by Thomas King and a newly-discovered score written nearly 70 years ago by Beiman’s father Melvyn Beiman, a professional musician. Serendipitously, Melvyn’s music fit with the mid-1950s UPA studio style of the film and complimented the action. All of the voice artists involved were Indigenous or had Indigenous ancestry including King and Laing, who provided the voices of the Coyote and Ruby.
To ensure the designs of characters, props, colours and sounds showed respect for Indigenous cultures and peoples, the project was developed with the ongoing advisement of King and Sheridan’s Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support. Beiman’s character designs and animation were in the comic tradition of American and Canadian cartooning to accentuate the surrealism and horror of King’s script. The look of the birds was influenced by the Woodlands style but used original designs and colors.
Elijah Williams, Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator for the Centre believes that this type of initiative demonstrate Sheridan’s ongoing commitments to Indigenous education and Truth and Reconciliation. “Art can play an active role in fostering dialogue and action on the path to reconciliation,” he says. “Projects such as this keep conversations about contemporary issues facing Indigenous communities open. This collaboration between Sheridan and Thomas King also shows what reconciliation can look like when educational curriculum incorporates Indigenous knowledge and histories.”
“Art can play an active role in fostering dialogue and action on the path to reconciliation. Projects such as this keep conversations about contemporary issues facing Indigenous communities open.” – Elijah Williams
A Short History of Indians in Canada was completed in July 2017 as a co-production between Sheridan and Thomas King’s Dead Dog Café Productions. The film has been entered into numerous festivals and was recently accepted into the Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) in Brighton, England.
Watch the trailer below, get the latest news about the film on Nancy Beiman’s blog and look out for its premiere screening in a city near you.
Pictured at top of page: A still from A Short History of Indians in Canada. Provided by Nancy Beiman.
Written by: Shellie Zhang, Communications and Social Media Coordinator, Sheridan’s Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design.