We were so excited to reconnect with AMES past participant Vern Bevis, who participated in First Perspectives in 1997.
P: So, Vern thank you again for taking this time to do this interview. I’m really looking forward to hearing your insights and perspectives about your experiences with AMES especially after having a chance to view some of your work. To start, what was your first experience with AMES?
V: I didn’t have any money to go to an AMES program, but I was told that there were grants. So I spoke with Deblekha on the phone and filled out the grant. I was in high school at the time, and I was told I couldn’t go even though I got the grant. I basically told the principal and my teachers “This program is more important to me than high school and if you don’t let me go then I quit right now”. And then they were just like, “OK Vern we’re going to let you go.”(Haha) and I was like, “Yup, I’m going–there’s no way I’m not going”.
P: How has AMES impacted you?
V: AMES was probably the single most significant thing that I’ve ever done. I mean it gave me hope and it let me know there was something else out there that I could actually do. I eventually went on to college and did a bunch of film stuff and worked in the industry too. If I didn’t make that call and write that grant, I don’t think I would be alive right now, you know. It was pretty much life altering…
P: I appreciate your realness…
V: I went to Cap for a while–Cap College–and by the time I was done–a month or so later–I was working at GIFTS (Gulf Islands Film and Television School). I worked there for 3 or 4 years, or something like that. At that time, I had this gigantic green pager, man it was ugly and all it did was beep and buzz, beep and buzz….but I just stopped answering all my homeboyz’ pages, and started answering pages from people in the film industry.
P: Could you tell us a little bit more about how engagement in AMES projects has influenced your current personal, and/or professional activities ?
V: Well the first project that I did through AMES was about suicide. Some of my other Native friends, or whatever, were committing suicide…(sigh) not just in my neighbourhood, but on the reserve where I’m from… and it’s kinda always been like that. So, that’s what I made it about– me and the guy I made it with, we made a conscious decision–not to just be depressing and try to bum everyone out—but to try to tell people how it is for us; how it is for our people. The residential school effect–the mindset of the people, you know.
P: …I appreciate you going there and allowing us an opportunity to get into your experiences because they’re deep and they hurt, and it’s very heartfelt. From what you can remember, what from your AMES experiences most stands out for you?
V: Well there’s a bunch of things, one of them being my phone call with Deb and being accepted. I still remember the day that I went. It was September 27, 1997. I remember because, my girlfriend broke up with me the day I left. And (laughter) I had like the worst week ever! Like I’d go in, and I’d like be making this film and trying to be charismatic and charming and whatever, and then later at night I’d go to my room and cry (laughter)…it was really pathetic.
P: No, no, that happens. It makes sense…
V: Something else that stood out was one of the films that me and Herb Cook did through IMP (Independent Media Producers Program). It was a super 8 film called “Punch, Kick, Fight”. It won a bunch of awards, like across Canada pretty much. I remember Deblekha paged me on my big ugly green pager, and she was like “Vern you won this award and you won another award.” And–I dunno if Deblekha remembers this–but all I could say was like “neato!” (laughter). And she’s like “Yes, it is neato, Vern.” I can’t believe I said something like that, you know. But the film kept winning… It ended up in the Vancouver International Film Festival.
P: What do you believe is your most enduring take away from your experience with AMES?
V: What I took away from it is that I knew that I wanted to be involved with film for a long time. For the most part, people in my family don’t go to college, don’t really graduate, but I screwed it into my head “I’m going to college man, and there’s no two ways about it”. To me, education is one of the most important things, you know, it doesn’t really matter who you are, or where you are from, education is important, and you know, it changes you. It helped me. It helped me leave the homeboys alone, you know. And a lot of people I know are fucking stuck, you know, they are exactly how we were when we were 15.
I guess that’s why I think that the younger you can get somebody into these kinds of programs the better; the younger they can believe ‘this is something I CAN DO ’. Before, I really truly believed that I was going to die young…I felt hopeless and at times I thought ‘well if I just get killed then it’ll all be over and I don’t have to worry about shit’, you know. But then when it was finally in my head that this is something I could do, you know…I guess that’s what I’m trying to say: if you can plant these seeds in their heads when they’re young, when they go home to their communities or whatever, they can say “look what I did”. And show their friends and their friends will go“wow, that’s cool, man. You did that? Maybe I can do that…” You know, so it like spreads…
P: What are you doing now personally, creatively, and professionally? What are you passionate about? You sound like a very passionate man.
V: Well, I’m still involved in film and video after all these years. I recently bought all the gear necessary to start a production company with my friend Lee, who’s a music producer. Our company’s going to be called “Reservation Brothers’ Entertainment.” And we’re going to make music videos. We’re in the process of shooting a music video for one of my songs, “Cry Baby”–it’s done with Clara Chandler. But also, I did two years of acting school, a feature and a short film. And writing, I write a lot. I’ve got 36 or 37 poems written for a book that I’m doing. I’m going to call it “The Beginning Works of Vern Beavis”.
P: So, even if indirectly, Vern, has your participation with AMES projects had any influence on your ongoing engagement with key social issues and concerns. If so, could you elaborate?
V: It totally does… at the time, I remember discussing… a lot of things on race, a lot of things on residential schools. Like classism, you know? Like, these topics that everyone in that entire room were affected by. We had a feather and we’d pass the feather around and when you have the feather it’s your turn to talk. No one else could talk, but you. It’s your speaking time. And everyone would totally open up. And people, I mean, like people cried, you know. People laughed too. It was an emotional roller-coaster every time we did those talking circles.
V: And I remember and miss Michelle Ryan….her film [Pride] , you know, it was like mind blowing, man. When I watch it right now, I want to cry because, it’s so touching. We were all touched by it. Touched by it, touched by AMES. The lives that AMES has changed. I mean like I will never be the same again… I can’t forget what happened, and I won’t forget, you know.
P: So, I’m just interested to know whether you think there is value in media production programs for youth?
V: Yes and no. I say yes because, when I went I was keenly interested and I knew that it was something that I was really wanting to do. At the time, all of these opportunities started popping up and I was trying to push people, I mean let people know–these kids, native kids or even just kids in general–like ‘you can do something with yourself’, you know. If there’s something that you want to do you, can go out and do it. If you want to go to college or university, go do it! You can do it, you know. Like, I mean a lot of Native kids, they have this attitude, like “I can’t do it”. But it’s bullshit. You can do it. If I can, then you can, you know.
P: So, as we move along, what do you think are some of the things that you’d like to see AMES accomplish in the future?
V: (Sigh) Wow, that’s a hard question to answer. I think like AMES has done so much as it is. I mean, I guess the one thing that I’d be worried about would be if Deblekha wasn’t there. Or if she decided to stop, who would do it? Because there has to be someone else that is as passionate as her. I guess all I really have to say is that it should continue. Not just like for now, or next year, but I mean like permanently, like forever. Because, if it’s not there, there’s going to be a huge void in society.
P: Well Vern, that’s a good place to wrap up. I can only say I don’t know if my words are enough to give you my ultimate, my sincerest and deepest thanks for taking this precious time to share with me. It’s very clear to me—despite your own trials and tribulations–that you’re a survivor. And also an inspiration for myself and others.
V: Thanks man! Cool. Give me your e-mail and I’ll send you the video of that song….