The documentary about the immersion school is written, directed and produced by award-winning Roxann Whitebean, a renowned independent filmmaker from Kahnawake. Usheroff has worked with Whitebean in the past and they are now discussing future plans to collaborate.
For this film, Usheroff says he brought his camera down to the kids’ level so as to be “close and intimate,” showing what it’s like to be a young student in a small Mohawk community school that was founded by four mothers in 1988.
The women who oversee the immersion school raise money to keep it going by hosting bingo nights, spaghetti dinners, haunted house events and more. The school is run without any governmental support.
“The film basically follows the lives of the children who are going to the school, the parents who are sending their kids there, the grandparents who founded the school and, really, the community at large that is fundraising and supporting the Mohawk language school,” says Usheroff, a born-and-raised Montrealer.
Karihwanoron: Precious Things airs on CBC at 9 p.m. on June 22, part of a two-part special called Through Our Eyes: Indigenous Short Doc.
“One of the things that was most impressive to me was, on the night of the bingo fundraiser, it felt like the entire community came out to the bingo hall to support the school,” he says. “There was such support in the community that they had to turn people away at the door.”
Early love of film
Usheroff’s passion for filmmaking was already developing when he enrolled in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies since, from a young age, he had been producing his own independent film projects.
“I went into communication studies because I had an interest in media production, but I wasn’t sure if that was necessarily going to be my career path,” he says. “Communications was a broad enough umbrella that it could leave more doors open for me when it came to future careers, but still allowed me to focus on production.”
Usheroff says several key lessons have followed him from the classrooms at Concordia to the present day. He learned, for example, that establishing and understanding the goals of a project before embarking on it is the first priority to ensure the original objective is met. And in communication theory, Usheroff adds, he was taught that, as a communicator, it is important to be “crystal clear” about the message you are trying to send.
“I also remember spending a lot of time learning the responsibilities of a media maker. When you are creating content that people will consume, that comes with a certain responsibility as it can have an impact on the way society understands the issue that you are focusing on,” he says.
“It’s very important to be mindful of how the images that you are creating could be interpreted or misinterpreted or reused in a context that was not intended.”
Two years after graduating, Usheroff co-founded Black Box Productions, a company that now has offices in Montreal and Toronto. Its focus has been largely service production for major brands and commercial clients, though the company does do its own original productions such as short films, music videos and documentaries.
Usheroff says it has been a nice break from his usual production of branded content to work with Whitebean. Before teaming up for the documentary, he partnered with her on a yet-to-be-released fiction project called Paradigm. That went well, he reports, and their working relationship grew from there.
“It’s always exciting to see your work broadcast on television, so I am definitely excited for that,” Usheroff says. “Roxann and I are already collaborating on our next film together. I am looking forward to the release of that one as well.”