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Dr Shirley Cheechoo


Dr Shirley Cheechoo is the Founder and President of Weengushk Film Institute located on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. Weengushk Film Institute - (WFI) is an artist-focused, film-training centre, dedicated to unlocking the creative potential of Aboriginal Youth and persons of diversity. While developing market leading skills and experiences to its participants, WFI will provide significant value by creating a mentorship network between students engaged in learning and industry professionals. This aim works to fostering skill development through arts training and the creation of access points to decision makers throughout this field.

Dr. Shirley Cheechoo (Cree) was born in Eastmain, Quebec in 1952. Ms Cheechoo appreciates the importance of diversity and artistic expression in Ontario’s communities. She is an actor, writer, producer, director and visual-artist. She is the first person from a First Nation to write, produce, direct and act in a feature length dramatic film in Canada, titled “Bearwalker (aka Backroads)”, which had a market screening at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Ms Cheechoo is an award-winning actress having gained national attention in the theatre in 1992 with her play, "Path With No Moccasins". Shirley has also appeared on several Canadian film and television series including “The Rez”. She has won many awards from her documentaries and short dramatic films. Her early childhood was spent in Moose Factory, later the family moved to Hearst, Ontario. She is married to artist Blake Debassige and they have one child, Nanoshkasheese. Memories of growing up within a warm family group have become the focal point for her expression through the medium of acrylic. Her paintings represent the personal documentation of the many experiences she shared with her large family in the north as well as those of other Cree families lived by trapping and fishing. She provided the illustrations for Basil H. Johnston's book "Tales the Elders Told". Her directorial debut is the acclaimed short film, “Silent Tears”, which won several film festival awards for Best Short Film. It was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Telefilm Canada/Television Northern Canada Award for Best Canadian Aboriginal Language Television Program. As one of a select group of promising filmmakers, Shirley was invited to attend the prestigious Sundance Institute lead by Robert Redford, where she work-shopped and filmed scenes of “Bearwalker (aka Backroads)” with accomplished creative advisors including Robert Redford. Her film was screened at Sundance Film Festival - American Spectrum 2000 and went on to be nominated and win prizes for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress in several film festivals including Reel World Film Festival, Reel Island Film Festival, San Francisco Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival and at The Lake Placid Film Festival. Ms Cheechoo teaches drama workshops to Native youth across Ontario, and is the founder of Debahjehmujig Theatre Group, a touring youth drama company now in it’s 24th year. This troupe often performs plays in the Ojibwe language. She has won first prize awards for her works at numerous film festivals including Montreal's First Peoples Festival, the Santa Fe Film Festival, and the American Indian Film Festival of San Francisco. In 2002 Cheechoo was named Independent Filmmaker of the Year at the Arizona International Film Festival.