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In their own words


Longhouse front people_cropped.PNG
March 18, 2011

By Michelle Woodard

In the mid-1990s when Geoffrey Simmins decided to put together a series of teaching materials highlighting how art and architecture could change lives, he knew that having people tell their own stories was an approach that made sense. “Video is a powerful teaching tool that can make art and architectural history come alive more fully. It captures emotion and connects audiences with the stories and people they see on screen in a way that articles or books simply can’t,” says Simmins, associate dean, research and planning in the arts faculty.

Fast-forward 15 years and the theory still holds true. The latest installment of the five-part series, Longhouse—Waap Galts'ap—House for the Community, took Simmins and Teaching & Learning Centre’s (TLC’s) video production team, Fred Fountain and Lawrie Edison, to Terrace, BC where they spent two very hot days filming the sights, sounds and powerful emotions that accompanied the opening of a traditional longhouse.

Longhouses in the Northwest Coast have long been places of learning for First Nations people and this particular project, a collaboration between First Nations communities and Northwest Community College, combines elder and oral traditions with western education. “It’s also a beautiful blend of art and architecture,” explains Simmins. “First Nations people have traditionally surrounded themselves with art of a very high quality as part of their daily life and this project reflects that with the full complement of art that a longhouse would have had in the old days.”

The video may focus on a building, but ultimately the story is all about community. Through interviews with elders, artists and other community members the video captures what the longhouse means to them as a people. “It’s really about the revitalization of a culture,” explains Simmins. “The Northwest Coast First Nations tradition has made some of the most important contributions to architecture and arts in this country and it’s wonderful to see that it’s alive and flourishing.”

Destined for use in Canadian studies and architectural history courses as well as the general public, these certainly aren’t the stereotypical “talking head” classroom videos you might remember from the 1970s and 80s. “Our approach is to never have me appear or speak on the videos,” explains Simmins. “We really want people to be able to tell their own stories.”

But only 15 minutes of airtime and no script makes careful planning and a significant amount of editing critical. “Fred, Lawrie and I work together as a team through all aspects of the production and really push each other to do the best we can,” explains Simmins.

And which video is Simmins’ favourite? “It’s always the next one,” he says.

Watch the Longhouse-Waap Galts'ap-House for the Community video online at tlc.ucalgary.ca/projects/audiovideo. For more information on the TLC's video production services, contact Fred Fountain at 403-220-3705 or fred.fountain@ucalgary.ca.