The other side
Dennis Allen's grant a boost for aboriginal TV

by Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 23/98) - Dennis Allen hit the jackpot.

The Inuvialuit filmmaker and television producer just got a grant for $15,000 to produce "The Other Side."

Allen, who recently moved to Yellowknife from Inuvik, is the first recipient of the Northwestel Cable/Arctic Cooperatives Aboriginal Production Fund.

Television Northern Canada (TVNC) lobbied to establish the fund in 1995 in an effort to make sure that aboriginal producers were financially able to tell their stories via television production.

Allen, 37, says the half-hour television program will cost a total of $45,000 to make.

"I plan to lobby aboriginal groups and the NWT Senior's Society because it's about the abuse of elders," says Allen who has acted in two episodes of North of 60.

"I'm also planning to get in-kind donations and apply to John Kim Bell's program, the Canadian National Arts Foundation."

Allen says his production costs are so high because he wants to make his drama on film, not video.

"Video is not the right medium for drama. Film picks up all the subtleties of light and video is an electronic medium so there's no depth to video."

Allen says it will take him about six months to raise the money and that he will be ready to begin filming in November. It should be ready for viewing by the spring of 1999.

"It will be filmed in Dettah because it has that real small community feeling. Yeah, I'm excited but, I'm trying not to be," says Allen.

"It's about an elderly Dene widower who kills his abusive son in self-defence. And it's about a young Native constable who's in charge of the investigation and he's torn between the two concepts of justice, aboriginal and European law."

Allen, who graduated in film production from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), says that all of the evidence points towards the elder.

"The abusive son, who's an alcoholic, comes home and the father stabs him with a steak knife and the son dies in the snow. The constable knows the abuse has been going on and the father says, 'my law has been here for generations and generations. In the old days it would never have come to this.'"

Another of Allen's plot twists deals with suicide and he is nervous about how it will be received by aboriginal cultures.

"It's different when a Native artist takes that degree of licence. I'm expecting someone to barge through my door and say 'what's happening here?'" says Allen who will be looking for aboriginal actors fluent in their aboriginal languages to star in his production.

"He (the father) wants to go to the other side, the spiritual world, that's where I got the title from."

Allen has managed to incorporate all of his themes into the 30-minute script and he says that "I always wanted to do this script that I wrote and I hope that it (the fund) will open up the door for aboriginal and Northern filmmakers," says Allen.

Aivy Reinfelds, the general manager of Northwestel Cable Inc., shares Allen's hopes and says that his company contributes 91 per cent of the money to the fund.

"It's a great partnership and I'm glad that some of the money is making it to the north. It's creating employment and building awareness about the North, not only here but down south. Everyone thinks these things happen down south, but they don't, they happen here," says Reinfelds.