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Syliboy brings Mi’kmaq legends to life at Parrsboro Film Festival


PARRSBORO, N.S. – The 7th Annual Parrsboro Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday.

The winner of this year’s Short Film Competition was Missing Women by Anna Quon in the under-five minute category and Play Rewind Play by Stephanie Clattenburg in the under-21 minutes category.

Ten films competed in the under-five minute competition, and four films competed in the under-21 minutes category.

The three-day festival featured mostly new films but on Sunday morning it also featured three short films by artist Alan Syliboy, a Mi’kmaq artist from Truro.

One of the films he showed was Little Thunder, created by Syliboy, Nance Ackerman, and the National Film Board of Canada.

“We submitted it to the (2010) Olympics in Vancouver. It was a competition and we won,” said Syliboy. “It premiered at the Olympics and has been in at least 50 festivals all over the world, including Montreal where it won best animation.”

After showing his films, Syliboy explained how life’s path brought him to a place where he spends his time learning the Mi’kmaq legends and bringing them back to life.

“My journey involves trying to find out as much as I can, to find the little pieces that are lost and put them together,” said Syliboy.

He credits Peter Sanger for unearthing several of the original legends, including the story of Little Thunder.

“Peter Sanger was a professor at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College in Truro. He’s a poet as well. He heard a rumour about two stories. He went looking for them and his search led him to Acadia University, their archives,” said Syliboy. “The stories were there in their written form and were about 150 to 175 years old. He took it on as a project and it took him four years to turn it into a book. He’s the one who rediscovered them. We owe him a lot.”

The book, The Stone Canoe, was published in 2007. It features two lost Mi’kmaq stories written in the Mi'kmaq language by Baptist clergyman Silas Rand in 1847. One of the stories is Little Thunder.

Mi'kmaq speaker and teacher Elizabeth Paul translated the original manuscript, and Syliboy did all the illustrations for the book.

Syliboy talked about the difference between traditional First Nations stories in Western Canada and Eastern Canada.

“A lot of their culture (in the west) was kept intact. It was seamless. They had it and continued. With us we had to discover petroglyphs. We had no information,” said Syliboy. “We didn’t have that same structure. We might have at one time but that information is long gone. Now we have to work with what we have. I research as much as I can.”

He says the lack of information has freed him up artistically.

“For me that (lack of information) was a bad thing and a good thing because then I could interpret it the way I wanted to interpret it.”

One interpretive example he uses is the symbol of the crane found on petroglyphs.

“The crane in the petroglyphs is probably a blue heron,” said Syliboy. “Nothing is firm. There is speculation always. We take these symbols and use them the best we can.”

Another symbol found on the petroglyphs, Syliboy interprets to be fiddleheads.

“The fern is a perfect symbol. A fiddlehead starts out as a tight ball and then it opens,” said Syliboy. “That’s just like your life. You start off and don’t know that much and, as you grow, you open up. Hopefully you do that.”

Syliboy thanked everybody attending the festival and coming out to see his films on a Sunday morning.

“I was born in Nova Scotia and I love being here,” said Syliboy. “I love to travel every part of it and meet as many Nova Scotians as I can.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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