By Kat Lyzun
When filmmaker and teacher Sean Spenrath was living in Eabematoong First Nation, the term “ripples after the splash” took on a new meaning. A friend and father of one of his students spoke of the intergenerational effects of abuse he had suffered as a child, of the ripples that lasted for years and continued to affect those around him. The metaphor stayed with Spenrath when he left the community to take a job with Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School in Thunder Bay.
It is no small thing for a 15-year-old to move hundreds of kilometres away from home for a high school education. The recent deaths of Indigenous youth in the city weigh heavily on their minds. Many experience racism, loneliness and isolation, and struggle to find ways to cope. Spenrath believes a student living centre could offer more security and support, going a long way in addressing some of these issues. There aren’t enough boarding homes, and students are spread out all over the city. So, with the help of the school and students, Spenrath put together Ripples After the Splash to bring attention to the issue.
“I want people to know their story and start to become part of the solution,” he says. “I want them to ask, ‘what can we do to make this easier for these kids?’” The film layers beautifully shot images of DFC high school activities with audio of students, journalists, and Indigenous musicians, writers, and advocates talking about what life in the city is like and what needs to change. Spenrath filmed at every opportunity, often on field trips where students would open up about some of the issues they were dealing with.
“What you don’t see in the video are the challenges that they bring with them that could be supported by a student living centre,” he says. “In the news, we constantly see states of emergencies because of suicide, mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse issues in the communities our students come from. These issues don’t disappear when these kids come to school in Thunder Bay. These are challenges the staff and students of DFC face every day.
“Despite all these challenges, these kids come to school with smiles on their faces. They never lose that sense of humor that is so deeply rooted into their culture. They are sweet, shy, funny, and all around awesome kids that just want to be like every other high school student.”
Ripples After the Splash had nearly 50,000 views in just over a month on Spen Films’ Facebook page. Check out the video and pass it on; every share helps.