Indigenous film maker creates short film under COVID-19 restrictions

Kennlin Barlow's short film Summertime explores the life of one character in a pandemic society. (Submitted: Kennlin Barlow)
Kennlin Barlow, from Indian Island First Nation in Kent County, New Brunswick, finished filming his upcoming short-film, Summertime, as part of an anthology series called The Lemon Tree, all filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Summertime explores the loneliness and depression of one character in a pandemic society. Much of the dialogue was improvised and Barlow said that he went into the film without a script. 

“This short-film features a queer character named Sebastian who’s mainly kind of lonely in the midst of the pandemic,” he said. “The pandemic isn’t really talked about … but it’s present in some of the scenes where you see masks while the character’s social distancing.”

Barlow plans to release the film sometime between October and November. The series focuses on physical, mental and emotional pain. Barlow went months without filming, but he’s now free to shoot, filming Summertime in August.

“Before we started shooting, we had to go through a lot of safety precautions,” Barlow said, adding castmates had immune-compromised families. They wore masks when needed, and practiced social-distancing.

Prior to filming, Barlow said his crew had to go through a lot of safety precautions. (Submitted: Kennlin Barlow)

Summertime isn’t the first time Barlow’ dealt with a mature and controversial subject matter in his films. In 2016, he presented his short-film Mancanti to his first film festival and was heckled at its first screening. He said he felt there was a racial motive as he was just one of two Indigenous directors in the festival.

“It was traumatic at first, but I just think it really goes to show how dividing my work is here in New Brunswick,” he said.

Behind every filmmaker’s vision is a producer managing the film behind the scenes. Corrina Merasty produced the film and handled the work that goes unseen. She said she makes sure the film stays on-budget and the paperwork is submitted correctly.

“[I do] all of the administration stuff that you have to do to make sure to dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s,” Merasty said.

On top of the typical producer responsibilities, COVID-19 can add extra precautions to work out. She said she found the process difficult at first, but during filming, they were safe.

“We were very concerned about who was on the project,” she said. “To get started, we tried to make [social distancing] as simple as possible.”

On top of her responsibilities as a producer, Corrina Merasty said COVID-19 added a barrier to the filming process. (Submitted: Corrina Merasty)

Aside from being a film producer and actor, Merasty is also the Indigenous Outreach Officer at Arts NB and Indigenous liaison for the Department of Tourism. She’s also planning to act for Barlow for the next short film in the Lemon Tree series, which will focus on her experiences with breast cancer.

 Merasty has been living cancer-free since December 2019. She said Barlow wanted to show what she went through and how living with breast cancer felt. She said she went through a depressive state during her radiation.

“Being a very social butterfly as I am … I really retreated into myself,” she said. “I didn’t have anyone to lean on that was going through the same thing as me.”

Merasty said she evaluated and learned from herself.

“I want to share that experience with people,” she said. “I want people to know that if you’re in that situation when things are real hard, you can still survive and still come out on top.”