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Many stories to be told
Carla Ulrich discovers rewarding filmmaking career in Fort Smith

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fort Smith is a long way from Hollywood or Vancouver but Carla Ulrich has found a rewarding and varied career as a filmmaker and videographer in the northern community.

NNSL photo/graphic

Carla Ulrich, a filmmaker in Fort Smith, writes a Cree word on a banner during the Youth Learn Cree through Music Workshop in January. She was filming the workshop for the Cree Language Program of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation. - NNSL file photo

Ulrich has found Fort Smith is "definitely" an interesting place to be a filmmaker.

"There are so many stories there," she said. "When I'm there, I'm just constantly being inspired, not only by the community but by different aspects of the community, the history, the characters."

Ulrich, who was born in and grew up in Alberta, has family in Fort Smith and visited the community many times over the years, before moving there about a year and a half ago.

Since then, she has been involved in numerous projects, some of her own and others for various organizations.

Ulrich said the highlight projects include filming the stories of elders for the Fort Smith Metis Council.

"Their stories and their history is special," she said.

Another highlight has been helping to deliver filmmaking workshops for youth at Uncle Gabe's Friendship Centre.

"The one thing I learned when we first started the program last year was that they're all ready to do this in the community," Ulrich said. "They just don't have the tools or the experience or the knowledge that maybe we can bring in for them."

One other highlight was filming a music video for the instrumental song 'Ghost Town' by Geronimo Paulette.

Ulrich said she is not really surprised about the many opportunities as a filmmaker and videographer she has found in Fort Smith.

"I think that there is a need for that within the community," she said, noting, for example, she filmed a culture camp for a school about a month ago. "That is an amazing program, and watching it and being there and seeing it, it's hard for me to believe that this hasn't been filmed before."

The 33-year-old Ulrich has been involved in the filmmaking business since she moved to Edmonton in her early 20s with the intention of being an actress.

Eventually, she began working in various aspects of the industry - production assistant, background work and still photography. That was on independent films and television programs, including in Edmonton and Vancouver.

"That was OK, but it was really long hours," she recalled. "You're basically working toward somebody else's story, somebody else's dream, and that's when I started sort of doing it on my own."

Ulrich explained it was a slow progression to creating her own films.

"I'd always had an interest in acting and writing but I had never actually made a film," she noted.

Her first film was a documentary called 'Stolen Sisters', about missing and murdered women. It won an award for emerging youth filmmaker at the Dreamspeakers Film Festival.

"From there, I just thought, 'Yeah, I want to do this,'" she said, adding she then co-ordinated a youth film project called Dreamspeakers on Tour for three years.

"Then I decided I wanted to focus on my own work," she added.

That's when Ulrich attended Capilano University in B.C. and earned a two-year diploma in film.

Her plan on coming to Fort Smith was to do a documentary on her family, specifically on the women.

"So that's what my intention was, and going up there I just really fell in love with the community," she said, adding she got to know more people and the film opportunities started coming.

Ulrich, who is a member of Mikisew Cree First Nation, said being in the North sped up the process of becoming a filmmaker because of the contacts she's made.

For instance, she mentioned she will be directing the filming of the Richard Van Camp graphic novel Three Feathers. It will be filmed four times - at the same shooting - in Chipewyan, Slavey, Bush Cree and English, and four short movies will result.

Ulrich said there are also challenges that come with working in Fort Smith.

For example, she noted there is not even a lot of stock footage of many aspects of the community.

"You've got to do it yourself," she said. "So that is definitely a drawback, but at the same time having that independence and that ability to just go and do it is also sort of a positive side."

Ulrich said there are many projects she wants to do in Fort Smith, adding, "I'm just going to keep working within the community and trying to capture stories."

The filmmaker described herself as a naturally curious person.

"I want to hear people's stories, and I want to hear what's going on in the world," she said, noting one of the greatest things about being a filmmaker in Fort Smith is that people want to tell their stories.

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