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Life’s a Pitch, An Interview with Jim Compton

This week’s blog challenge for Creative Communications was to conduct a Q & A interview with someone who is an inspiration to me. Although I had many people in my life who have become inspirations for many reasons, I chose to interview someone who is a perfect example of the things I hope to achieve some day. A person who is a role model to many in the Indigenous community and whose expertise and experience is a beacon of hope to those pursuing a career in the Creative Communications Industry.

Jim Compton is widely known for his work and contributions with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). He was the Program Director of APTN and Host of The Sharing Circle. APTN was the first National Aboriginal broadcaster in the world. It was made for the indigenous audience with culturally relevant programming. He was also one of the first Indigenous on air television journalists for the CBC.

Jim is currently the Artistic Director at The Adam Beach Film Institute, a new and exciting collaborative endeavor aimed at Training and connecting Aboriginal youth with the skills to pursue a rewarding career in the Film industry. Those are just a few projects that capture a small glimpse of Jim Compton.

After contacting Jim, for an interview, I was invited to his home, where we discussed The Creative Communications Program, and what my objective were for the Q & A.

How was I going to interview someone whose career and Television presence was such a huge influence on my life and the lives of other indigenous and non-indigenous peoples? His career is impressive and many of the projects he has accomplished, set precedence for indigenous people in the industry for generations to come.

Well, I did my best.

Dollarama composition book in one hand and a cheap iPhone 5s for audio in my other. Here we go…

Sherry-  With over 30 years of experience in the industry, what would you say started your journey?

Jim Compton-  My journey started with a mentor when I was in Brandon University back in the day. One of my teachers was a writer, he had written a book called Seven Arrows. He was a Cheyenne Crow from Montana. He had basically revised the medicine wheel concept to all the tribes in North America. Very well written, respected and influential. His name was Hyemeyohsts Storm.

He liked my writing, and he said I should pursue it. He was writing books, but I gravated towards journalism. When I went back the second year I took journalism courses, I wrote for the school newspaper and there was a national newspaper which I contributed to. I quickly became the editor of the [school] newspaper. It wasn’t that I was that good of a writer yet, it was just that no one wanted to get into it.

Sherry-  Storytelling is such a huge part of writing, it’s what has drawn me to it, what would you say has drawn you to writing?

Jim Compton-  I’ll tell you what I tell all my students, I still teach. I teach at the Adam Beach film institute. We just finished our spring class and were starting another class in October. I believe what I was taught by Hyemeyohsts. Life is all about stories, the bible, it’s all about parables which are stories. Look at the Indian religion that we have, which basically is the sacred narrative. What you do with your life in school is creating your story, your own personal story and everyone that fits into it. The beginning of your story is just a matter of where you want to be in the end of your story. Do you want to be working for CBC? a writer? Do you want to be making films? it requires writing and story. Story is easy, beginning middle end. And of course all stories have to have conflict.

(his cigar begins to go out, he revives it, we laugh)

Sherry-  I find that story-telling and someone who likes to write, also has the opportunity to work as a vessel to help other people tell theirs, what’s your thoughts on telling other people’s stories?

Jim Compton-   Some politicians, if you listen to them, all their doing is telling stories. Right. And throwing in their platforms at the same time. Story is journalism. That’s what it’s all about, that why people are drawn to it, because its natural. If you tell a story at a party, your trying to get those people to listen to you, and react to your story.

Sherry-  How important is it for indigenous voice?

Jim Compton-  it’s crucial, right from residential schools, European contact, we’ve had a different story thrust upon us right. I’m not saying that story is bad or wrong, but we need to have our own stories within that realm. It’s important to us to recognize, that to find where those stories are and give voice to people who need those stories told. Especially in a time now with the reconciliation and that stemming from residential schools. Those people need to have their stories told, and they need your help to tell them. There’s many stories and many ways of coming at it.

Sherry-  You are currently the Artistic Director of the Adam Beach Film Institute. Can you tell me about that?

Jim Compton-  Yes I am the Artistic Director of The Adam Beach Film Institute, this is our fourth intake of students, and our fourth year. We do outreach with high schools, we’re doing programs with Frontier School Division (school division in Northern Manitoba) We work with First Nation Schools and do workshops there. We also work with all the industry people who are out there that need to be contacted to make sure those stories are told. It’s a 24-hour job.

Sherry-  I bet.

Sherry-  Other than Artistic Director for Adam Beach Film Institute (ABFI), what other roles do you have within the indigenous community?

Jim Compton-  well you mentioned earlier about Public Relations being something that Creecom offers, well I do public relations too, and it’s all about writing. But it’s also about understanding who you are and who your community is.  [if] Your community needs help what are you going to do, say no I can’t help you because it’s not journalism? No. you’re going to help them because it needs to be done. And at the end of the day your helping families and children. I work for Southern First Nations Network of Care, which allows me to work part time so that I can teach. I am very happy that I can do both.

Sherry-  I watched a clip of you on Storytellers in motion. In the excerpt, you talk about “the bug”. Can you elaborate on what that is?

Jim Compton-  oh yeah [he laughs] well the bug is basically the satisfaction you get by completing a story, telling that story and having it distributed. For me it was early on when I was at CBC. I was a daily news reporter so I would go out and do a story every day. Not all those stories were aboriginal stories. It’s about satisfaction. Even if you do it on YouTube, it’s there, it’s an expression of who you are and what you believe in. We just finished a 13-part series with APTN called Urban Native Girl. Its native culture with a twist. We found our host who is a blogger and very successful with in her blog. Urban Native girl is about looking at life in the big city. We pitched it, sold it and now you can watch the stories. That’s the bug, watching your work. We also just finished 2 Heritage Minutes. One on Residential Schools and one on Treaties. Those Heritage Minutes are only done every 10 years, and we got two of them. Their running on all the networks. Look them up, their very good. The bug isn’t always about yourself, it’s about your team you work with.  We had Joseph Boyden, the author. [Heritage minutes] He is one of the most prolific aboriginal writers in the country,

And up and coming director Shane Belcourt. You get to work with all kinds of people all over the place. Story has taken me all over. I started the aboriginal peoples Television Network, I had my own TV show called The Sharing Circle, and now we’re trying to create our next batch of story tellers with and for The Adam Beach Film Institute.

Sherry-  That’s exciting.

Jim Compton-  yea and, it’s connected to Red River and the University of Winnipeg. If you take the course [ABFI] you will get credits for those programs [in college/University].

Sherry-  Would you say there were challenges of being an Indigenous man [person] in the industry 30 years ago? Has it changed today?

Jim Compton-  You know what, it’s a natural progression. The way I look at it, It’s about your story. At some point you have to give back. Adam Beach wanted to give back. He wanted to give back, and he came to me. One of his stories was that, when I was on TV I would get up and go to work every morning. He would see me with my braids, and say I want to be like that guy. And what he was saying was that he wanted to be in the limelight to affect the narratives of aboriginal people.  At some point you have to give back and teach. But we want to do it on our own terms which is what the ABFI is about. That’s why we do it with the AFBI and Red River. We need Red River as an affiliate to trigger the importance to people taking the course to have some aboriginal perspective, and communications perspective, like The Adam Beach Institute.

Sherry-  Do you have any advice for Indigenous people who are interested in pursuing a career in the industry?

Jim Compton-  My advice is to always pitch yourself. Always be aware that you need to pitch yourself, this is what I can do, this is my story. You learn that by reading your audience. If you’re doing it for TV, pitch whatever your project is. I’m always pitching ABFI, stories for APTN, my scripts. Life is pitching.

Sherry-  Life is pitching, that’s a good one.

Jim Compton-  That’s what it is, you have to tell people what you want. Always be there and ready to pitch yourself. Be ready, research it.

Sherry-  Today’s technology must make it easier to do that, was it harder for you, with no twitter, google, for researching.

Jim Compton-  [laughs] Yea we didn’t have any of that, but like I said, you have to pitch. It all reflects back to who you are and what you need right.  And what you need is to affect people so that the narrative of your children, and your community will change. It’s a lot to do but that’s the way we should be.

Sherry-  its achievable, its attainable

Jim Compton-  It is. That’s my elderly advice. [laughs]

Sherry-  Life’s a pitch. [laughs]

Jim- Life’s a pitch [laughs] it is. Try it sometime. You’ll find that you have to pitch. [if] You want someone to read your blog, what’s the pitch?

Sherry-  Thank you so much time for your time, I truly appreciate it.

Jim Compton-  Okay. Yeah no problem, I hope that helps you-

I stayed to visit Jim Compton for about another 20 minutes where we discussed further about the Creative Communications program and the Adam Beach Film Institute. It was a real pleasure having this opportunity to gather valuable information that is relevant not only for my blog, but to my studies at Red River College. Jim Compton was a great choice and I encourage my readers who aren’t familiar with his work or with the AFBI, to take a look.

I am truly appreciative for the lesson this challenge had to offer me as a student an as an Indigenous person. My hopes for my readers is to bring awareness and information to the Indigenous and Non-indigenous people who are striving for a rewarding career in Communications.

Original Interview Published by Hocus Pocus on Sherry's Focus, Click Here to View

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