Indigenous director Kenny Welsh made his Crazy8s short "The Faraway Place" as a metaphor for colonialism

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      Before he moved to Vancouver to study film at Emily Carr University, Yukon native Kenny Welsh spent eight months in Dawson City. Lucky for him, the old home of the Klondike Gold Rush had a little video rental store, where he could score himself 10 movies for around 15 bucks.

      "They had a really huge horror-movies selection," recalls Welsh, on the phone from RealWorld Media, the local TV and film production company where he works as an editor, "so most of the time there I just spent watching horror movies all day."

      Welsh's fondness for scary flicks can be easily ascertained by viewing his short film, "The Faraway Place". One of the six finalists in this year's Crazy8's competition, it's a horror/fantasy that depicts two people, a young woman and her father, being chased in the woods by red-cloaked villains. The reason they're being hunted is because they both have horns protruding from their foreheads.

      "I wanted to make this film as a metaphor/co-representation of colonialism," says Welsh, "because I'm Indigenous, but I didn't grow up with any of the culture, mostly because my grandparents had gone to residential schools, and the culture was lost. And so the horns signify that connection to the culture, and the villains in the film are like a cult, and one of the things they do is to remove the horns, to remove that identity from them.

      "So with 'The Faraway Place' I wanted to get a better understanding of how that culture was lost," he stresses, "and just tell the story of that. And then from here on, as I grow and learn more about the culture, I plan on telling more stories about it as well."

      In 2014, while attending Yukon College (now Yukon University) in Whitehorse, Welsh met fellow filmmaker PoChun Chen, and they've been together ever since. Chen produced 'The Faraway Place', and also directed 'Fish', a gruesome, three-minute horror film that Welsh served as director of photography and sound designer on. It took third place at the 2019 Artlist Horror FIlm Contest.

      "The Faraway Place" producer PoChun Chen (left) and writer-director Kenny Welsh.

      "That was a project that was really last minute," he says. "We heard about this contest from a friend of ours and we were like, 'Okay, let's get one of our friends to act in it, and we'll just shoot it over the weekend and edit it and then submit it.' And then surprisingly we ended up in third place."

      In the spring of 2020 four years of studies paid off for Welsh when he graduated from Emily Carr with a Bachelors degree in Film + Screen Arts.

      "Emily Carr wasn't incredibly focused on the technical aspects of making film," he points out, "it was more the theory behind it, and the history and culture behind film. How to tell stories. I think that really helped shape how I came up with the concept of 'The Faraway Place', and what I wanted to say with it."

      It was while enrolled at ECU that Welsh became aware of Crazy8s, an eight-day filmmaking challenge that provides funding and support to emerging filmmakers to help them produce a short film. On May 7 at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts Welsh's work will be screened along with others directed by Stephanie Izsak ("Consumer"), Shakil Jessa ("Imran and Alykhan"), Alireza Kazemipour ("The Gold Teeth"), Derek MacDonald ("Undeveloped"), and Kay Shioma Metchie ("Weeds are Flowers, Too".)

      Welsh says the biggest challenge in finishing his film in eight days came when the original lead actress wasn't able to make the shoot on day two, and so they had to reshoot everything from the first day. But he also feels like the best thing about "The Faraway Place" was the acting, especially that of Raine Mateo, who took over the lead role of Mana.

      Raine Mateo in "The Faraway Place".
      Craig Minielly

      "She was originally cast in one of those side villain roles," notes Welsh, "and then because of the issue with the lead actress leaving the film, her coming in on the second day and pulling it off, doing such a good job of it, I was very impressed with that. But all the actors were amazing."

      Growing up surrounded by woods in a small Yukon town Welsh developed a love for the outdoors and the stark beauty of nature. Filming "The Faraway Place" at the BCIT Forest Society Woodlot 0007 in Maple Ridge made him feel right at home--although maybe not quite as cold.

      "I wanted nature to play a big role in the film," he says, "and in the production side of it as well. I wanted to make sure while we were there interacting with nature that everyone was respectful of it."

      When he isn't busy tell stories through film, Welsh also makes music on the side, recording under the moniker Eat Your Friends.

      "I kind of bounce around everywhere," he says of his musical style. "I started way back doing metal, then I kinda transitioned into electronic music for a while, then hip-hop, and now kinda back into metal again--but combining it with hip-hop."

      Welsh is currently developing a pitch for Vancouver Film Studios' Indigenous Film Bursary, which is open to all Indigenous people aged 16 and over in B.C., and includes $5,000 to make a film as well as lighting and grip equipment from Pacific Backlot and soundstage space at VFS. He also has big plans--and high hopes--for "The Faraway Place".

      "I'm actually in the middle of writing the feature-length script for it right now," he says.

      The Crazy8s gala screening and afterparty takes place May 7 at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts .