Friday, March 18, 2011

DVD Review: The Pisim Project

Text and live photo© Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
Other images from the Internet

The Pisim Project
Produced and directed by Marcel Petit and Angela Mae Edmunds
Office of Outreach & Transitions, College of Engineering, University of Saskatchewan
46 minutes, 2010

The Charlebois Community School is located in the remote northeast town of Cumberland House (known locally as Washahikanihk), Saskatchewan. With about 2000 residents and primarily populated by First Nations (Cree and Métis), it is located on an island that, until recently, had accessible only by ferry in the summer and an ice road in the winter (a bridge was completed in 1998). And in 2008, the high school decided on a project that was quite ambitious, to put it lightly.

Pisim (the sun in the Cree language) was the key word when a bunch of 15 year olds decided that they would build an eco-friendly and solar-energized house as a class project.

What started out as and idea blossomed into a plan. Fortunately, filmmakers Marcel Petit and Angela Mae Edmunds decided to join in on the ride by taping the whole sequence of events, from beginning to end. Someone from the school wisely contacts the School of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (in Saskatoon), to help with the soundness of the house. They immediately recognize a good thing, and sponsor the event.

The audience is introduced to the ten young teens (including one with the appropriate name of Rayne Bo) as individuals who are shy, as they verbally stumble in front of the camera during their first soundbites. We watch as the kids (and some teachers, parents and locals who get swept up in the synergy) while they meet up with experts in building engineering and solar power from Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. This gives the students an opportunity to open up their world substantially, as they travel to those cities to meet these mentors, most leaving Cumberland House for the first time.

[Co-Director Marcel Petit; pic by RBF]

During the first year of the Project, the kids assemble with their respective specialists, and from that they begin to design the house, a two-story bungalow made from local materials (and the use of some heavy equipment lent by their various advisers and local businesses).

At summer break in 2009, they actually begin to build the energy-efficient dwelling, with the plan to sell it through a raffle. There are lots of challenges and drawbacks, as one would expect in such a huge venture for such a group of inexperienced youths, but they manage to stay together as a collective, and keep up the good fight. Do they succeed? Watching the documentary will answer that.

Along with the struggles of both successes and failures, not only is the process enjoyable to watch thanks to the guidance of the filmmakers who never dwell too long on any particular matter and help the viewer to be right there alongside the students, but we also get to see them in their other activities, such as sports, serving to make the students into fuller characters. We watch as the teens get older (for fun, when the DVD end, start it over again to see the difference in age and attitudes during the end and beginning interviews), and become more confident in their project and themselves as they figure ways around the problems that arise. While the adults are mentoring, they also do not interfere, so it is truly theirs, whatever the outcome.

This documentary was certainly a fun watch. The viewer gets to cheer on the kids, learn a bit about solar energy themselves through the osmosis of watching, and get a glimpse of a culture that one does not get the opportunity to view often. This release is being shown at film festivals throughout Canada, and perhaps in some areas of the States, but is worth seeking out even in the digital version.

More on Cumberland House:,_Saskatchewan
More about the school:

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