On June 11, the Vogue Theatre will screen an independent documentary film, Elder in the Making. The film, which had sold out audiences in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, is the spiritual journey of reconciliation that follows Michael ‘Cowboy Smith X’, a Blackfoot Aboriginal, and Chris Hsiung, a first generation Chinese-Canadian.
“It’s the mixture of humour, history and relationship between a Blackfoot and a Chinese-Canadian that make this film unique. You will laugh, learn, cry and hopefully be inspired. Ultimately it’s a hopeful movie even as it delves into dark topics,” said Hsiung in an interview with The Free Press.
Hsiung first met Cowboy when they were at an event called Making Treaty 7. The event was a theatre production that brought together indigenous and non-indigenous actors, writers, playwrights and musicians.
“I was immediately curious and proposed to Michael that we should make a documentary. He agreed and invited me to participate in an artist’s residency at the Banff Centre,” said Hsiung, who is also the director and editor of the film.
The X in Cowboy’s pseudonym represents the disappearance of the Blackfoot’s cultural identity. The film gave Cowboy the opportunity to connect with his lost culture according to Hsiung.
“Cowboy grew up with the Catholic Church and the rodeo. So for the most part he stayed away from the traditional aspects of his culture,” said Hsiung. “This journey was a chance for him to learn about his own cultural heritage. Both Cowboy and I were filmmakers so we immediately connected on this medium.”
During the journey, Cowboy was not the only one to reflect on his ancestry.
“Elder in the Making has moved me to be more curious about my own Chinese ancestry. Recently I visited Taiwan, the place where my mother grew up, and I discovered that I have inherited some of Taiwanese culture without even knowing it,” said Hsiung. I am more cognizant of how I have been influenced through my language and cultural heritage.”
Hsiung finds himself steeped in Chinese, Western and Indigenous ideals, leaving him to map his values.
“I see that every culture has within it deeply meaningful aspects of the human spirit. And every culture has its problems. The indigenous connection to the land, Western technology, Chinese philosophy are all parts that I can learn from,” he said. “I have always grown up navigating the mix of Canadian and Chinese values and it’s a privilege. It allows me to both value and reject parts of Canadian culture or any culture for that matter.”
The two will be present at the Fernie screening. Hsiung points out that while the film is important, the responses and interests around it are often more significant.
“Cowboy and I will be at the event because for us the conversation is often more important than the film itself. We want to provide the audience with an opportunity to talk more deeply about the film and have a chance to socialize afterwards. Personally, we’re always interested in the response to the film,” he said.
Hsiung planned to just screen the film and move onto the next, but the discussions and engagement that have surrounded its screenings have been unexpected and welcomed.
“We have screened on Vancouver Island, in Saskatchewan, and been invited into schools, universities, government agencies, energy companies and a wide variety of other groups. Each time the film has received positive reviews. The culmination was winning Best Documentary at the Alberta Film and TV Awards show,” said Hsiung.