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Monica Virtue

Monica Virtue

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design

Degree: Advanced Television and Film

Year of graduation: 2003

Labour of Love

After graduation, Monica returned to Sheridan to direct a documentary on the personal aftermath of the Ipperwash crisis, as part of the college’s incubator program. In 2005, with the Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations yet to be released and her film still in production, she was approached by Sam George and his lawyer, Murray Klippenstein, to direct a documentary about the history of the Ipperwash Provincial Park lands - the site of the controversial police-shooting of Sam's brother, First Nations protester Dudley George. Since starting work on Ipperwash Park in 2005, Monica has also directed Freedom Drum ('07), a short documentary on Indigenous rights that was commissioned by Amnesty International Canada. Monica has also been a guest speaker at York University's Osgoode Hall and Lakehead University on the topic of First Nations assimilation and land surrenders.

Originally from Woodstock, Ontario, Monica is a 1999 graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University's Communication Studies program and holds a 2001 Fanshawe College business certificate.

What has it been like to work on Ipperwash Park?

Working on Ipperwash Park has been both rewarding and heartbreaking. I moved to Forest, Ontario to be closer to Sam and the lawyers during the Inquiry, and I sat through a huge part of the heart-wrenching testimony. Not long after the inquiry was over, Sam was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He allowed me to interview him even after he'd undergone chemo. But after six years of filming him, I couldn't bring myself to film his funeral. That was too much for me, because by then he no longer seemed like just a "subject" to me.

We're just now clawing our way back out of three and a half years of research on the second film. I now live in Toronto and am working to finish it. It’s going to be hard without Sam's guidance, but it’s a job that has to be done. On another lighter note, I've gained a lot of experience over the past eight years and am now helping out other documentary filmmakers. It’s has been a tough slog sometimes, but I'm working in my field and feel like I'm "doing good" at the same time. You really can't beat that.

What led to your interest in issues of Canada's First Nations people?

Some of my earliest memories are of visiting Ipperwash Beach with my parents and grandparents. My family had a trailer about a 15-minute drive from Camp Ipperwash, and every summer they'd take me and my younger sister to the beach. My Grandpa started going there with his parents and his grandparents in 1929.

I was in Grade 11 when "the natives" started camping out on the gun ranges of Camp Ipperwash, and I was entering my last year of high school when Dudley George was killed by the OPP. Right from the get-go I thought the stories I was reading in the newspaper about the shooting sounded fishy. I figured that if people were desperate enough to camp out on a gun range, or take over a Provincial Park, then they probably had a pretty legitimate gripe.

What keeps you going in this competitive industry?

The thought of a feature documentary having my name on it as a Producer and Director. It's not often that you get a chance to make a film like this right out of the gate. I also love the idea of someone coming up to me on the street and saying, "Hey, I saw your movie and it really made me think." I love the idea of changing someone's mind (even just a little) about a topic that they were previously dead-set in their ways about.

And I love the art of it. I love that I get to spend my days doing something that I'd gladly do for free. I love getting my hands on a camera, writing, and editing my footage into something others can watch. It's a dream job.

What was the best piece of advice you received at Sheridan?

There are certain moments from my time at Sheridan that really stand out. One was faculty member Richard Leiterman telling me to forget about myself while filming - that if what I was filming was gripping enough, my subjects wouldn't even notice I was there. Another faculty member, Peter Rowe, told me that I was doing it all wrong. He said, "You don't take all your footage and eliminate the bad stuff until you have a film. You start with your very best footage and add to it.”

What have been the most exciting points of your life following graduation?

I feel like something unusual happens to me on a daily basis. But it was very satisfying hearing the former Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, being questioned on some of the research I'd done during the Inquiry.

In the midst of all that something else completely random happened. In 2007, I won a trip through the Sheridan Alumni Association to visit the set of CSI: Las Vegas. We spent the entire day at Universal Studios, where we got to meet the actors, tour the sets, and eat lunch with the crew. I spent a good chunk of time with Director, Richard Lewis (Director of Barney's Version). That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But then again, maybe if I keep going I’ll get to work alongside people like Richard. You just never know.

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