Michelle St. John

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Michelle St. John at Cinema Politica Concordia screening of her film, Colonization Road. Photo courtesy of Cinema Politica.

Michelle St. John is a First Nations actress, singer, producer, and director. She has been involved in creative projects in television, film, theatre, and music since the 1980s. Her directorial debut, Colonization Road, is a 2016 feature-length documentary that premiered at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.[1]

Career[edit]

Michelle St. John, who grew up in Toronto, began her career in film as an actress. One of her first roles was as the protagonist in the 1989 CBC film Where the Spirit Lives, for which she won a Gemini Award for Best Actress - Dramatic Program.[2]

In 1992, St. John won her second Gemini Award for Best Guest Performance in a Series by an Actor or Actress for her role as Merrily Swanson on E.N.G..[citation needed] She has worked on many television series, including Northern Exposure and By Way of the Stars, and she voiced the character of Nakoma in Disney’s 1995 animated film Pocahontas.

In 1998, St. John’s had a cameo as Velma in Chris Eyre’s award winning Smoke Signals. The screenwriter, Sherman Alexie, describes the scene as a “trap door” for Indigenous audiences to fall through, while those less familiar with Indigenous culture will pass right by.[3][4]

Michelle St. John co-founded Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble in 1999 with Jani Lauzon and Monique Mojica.[5] As Co-Managing Artistic Director, she co-created, produced, and toured The Scrubbing Project,[6] an exploration of mixed Indigenous heritage, The Triple Truth, which was nominated for a Dora Award, and The Only Good Indian… , a multi-media musical.[7]

Michelle St. John is Co-Artistic Director of Red Diva Projects and has produced several short films and theatre productions with partner Marie Clements.[8]  She is currently a producer at The Breath Films,[9] where she recently collaborated with Shane Belcourt as co-producer on two Heritage Minutes, Chanie Wenjack and Naskumituwin (Treaty),[10] and the independent feature film Red Rover.[11]

Colonization Road[edit]

St. John came across the inspiration for Colonization Road, which she wrote, produced, and directed, while touring with Turtle Gals in Fort Frances, Ontario.[12] The film follows comedian Ryan McMahon as he explores the historical significance of this road in his hometown, and how its endurance reflects the uncomfortable reality of Canada’s colonial past and present.[13]

The First Nations and Indigenous Studies faculty at the University of British Columbia welcomed St. John as their artist-in-residence in 2015 while she worked on the film.[14] The World Premiere of Colonization Road was on October 23, 2016 at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival,[15] and it has been nominated for two Golden Sheaf Awards.[16]

Selected Filmography[edit]

Year Film/TV Series Role
1989 Where the Spirit Lives Komi/Amelia
1991 E.N.G. Season 2, Episode 11 Merrily Swanson
1993 Spirit Rider Camilla
1995 Pocahontas Nakoma
1996 Coyote Summer Rachel
1998 Smoke Signals Velma
2002 The Business of Fancydancing Agnes Roth
2010 Every Emotion Costs June
2014 Apikiwiyak (producer)
2016 Urban Native Girl (TV) (researcher, associate producer, production manager)
2016 Colonization Road (writer, producer, director)
2016 Heritage Minutes: Chanie Wenjack; Naskumituwin (Treaty) (co-producer)
2017 Red Rover (post-production) (co-producer)

Awards[edit]

1990 - Gemini Award: Best Actress - Dramatic Program (Where the Spirit Lives)

1992 - Gemini Award: Best Guest Performance in a Series by an Actor or Actress (E.N.G. Season 2, Episode 11)

2003 - FAITA Award: Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Film (The Business of Fancydancing)

2011 - American Indian Movie Award: Best Actress (Every Emotion Costs

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Colonization Road". Imaginative Film + Media. 
  2. ^ "Native leader charges church with abuse". CBC Archives. 
  3. ^ Hearne, Joanna (2010). "Remembering Smoke Signals: interviews with Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie.". Postscript. 29. 
  4. ^ Knopf, Kerstin (2008). Decolonizing the Lens of Power: Indigenous Films in North America. ISBN 9789042025431. 
  5. ^ "Aboriginal Theatre Links". 
  6. ^ Minkin, Melissa. "The Identity Dance". 
  7. ^ "Red Diva". 
  8. ^ "Michelle St. John". 
  9. ^ "Michelle St. John, Producer". 
  10. ^ "David Hannan, Films". 
  11. ^ "National Screen Institute Faculty". 
  12. ^ Footman, Akeesha. "Michelle St. John Uncovers Colonization Roads with Comedian Ryan McMahon in New Doc". Muskrat Magazine. 
  13. ^ "Colonization Road". 
  14. ^ "Welcome Michelle St. John: FNSP Artist-in-Residence for February 2015". 
  15. ^ "Colonization Road". 
  16. ^ "2017 Nominees".