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Indigenous youth to learn about the film industry

Squamish actor-producer hosting workshop for Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) youth.

A Squamish resident is giving local Indigenous youth a chance to see what it's like working in the film industry.

Jennifer Mendoza, a recent graduate of Vancouver Film School, is organizing a special effects makeup for film class from Feb. 26 to 27.

The class, which is already booked full, will be the first of a series of workshops, each of which will focus on an aspect of film, the Howe Sound graduate said.

Mendoza, who grew up in Squamish, said that despite the town's reputation as a set location, there was little in the way of guidance for students who wanted to break into the film industry.

"When I was growing up, we didn't really have a lot of things that had to do with the film industry," she said.

"I know they come here all the time, but there [were] no classes. And I was always wondering what to do. Like, what other stuff they do within that, right? And now I just graduated from film school. And I obviously have made a ton of connections in the industry. And now, we wanted to create this program, first to start out with giving opportunities to the Indigenous community that we have here."

Mendoza has been busy since graduating late last year. She's been working as a producer and actor, and she's currently on an acting gig for a Warner Brothers film.

Currently, there are 12 Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) young people enrolled for the workshop, which will take place this weekend at the teen centre in Brackendale.

The idea is to give the kids a chance to experience what it's like to work in the industry. Mendoza said she'll be bringing in mentors who have real-world experience to show them the ropes.

She said she hopes that it will give students enough information to see if the film industry is the right fit for them.

Mendoza noted there's a need to increase Indigenous representation in the film industry.

"I also feel like there isn't a lot of opportunities here in Squamish for the youth to really get into the bigger world of acting in Vancouver," she said.

"So because I have an agent, I've asked her if she would be willing to come down and also take a look at, you know, how the kids do after a couple of workshops, and then from there create more opportunities for the kids to then be able to create a career after graduating high school or even if they're [younger.]...I think that the more opportunity that you give them while they're young, you know, the better that they can do when they're older."

Mendoza aims to branch into subjects like acting, directing, cinematography, and production design in the coming weeks and months.

She said she is also working on making film workshops accessible to the general youth population, with a goal of having a workshop in March for any youths who are interested.

Ideally, it will follow the same format of bringing in industry mentors who tackle each workshop's different subject of film.

A Howe Sound graduate of 2012, Mendoza initially pursued a career as a children's therapist and a relationship counsellor.

When the pandemic hit, she decided she'd pursue her long-time love of film and acting.

She wanted to merge her love of working with children and youth with her current passion for film. As a result, the film workshops were born.

"I think that it's important to, well, first of all, go with what you feel is really something that you want to do," said Mendoza.

"I think that that's what life is about. And also, taking opportunities is a very key thing. Because the longer you wait to do something, it's not that you might not get to it, but the longer it's going to take for you to get there, right? So I think that it's important to take a little bit of risk sometimes. And yeah, just really go for what you love."

Mendoza says she will have more details of upcoming opportunities and contact information available shortly. Check back with The Squamish Chief and we will update this story when that is available.