Thanks to a love of all things both visual and lyrical, acclaimed London creator Sarah Legault continues to carve a name for herself in the Canadian music scene — in a very different way.
In fact, you could say she’s speeding along at about 24 frames per second.
Come March she’ll make her way to Saskatoon, complete with a JUNO Award nomination for Music Video of the Year for an epic stop-motion project, iskwē’s Little Star.
Needless to say, Legault couldn’t be more excited.
“It was emotional hearing that news,” she said, explaining as a self-taught filmmaker, earning an awards nod on such a grand scale was something she never thought possible. Add to that the kind of exposure the video has already received, and Legault is on cloud nine. “The fact people across the nation are paying attention to it and listening is incredible, and very overwhelming.”
Credited as a celebrated artist and communicator of music and movement, pictures, poetry and prose, iskwē is an Indigenous singer-songwriter and activist of Cree, Dené and Irish heritage. She was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize for her second album The Fight Within and received a JUNO Award nomination for Indigenous Music Album of the Year at the 2018 JUNO Awards, and while her latest offering, acākosīk, is currently up for Adult Alternative Album of the Year.
It’s been a perfect partnership for Legault, whose work spans a number of mediums, including illustration, set and character design, doll making, set building, painting, and photography. And as co-curator of The Shadowood Collective, she’s participated in dozens of group exhibitions from Toronto to Berlin, Krakow, to Los Angeles.
As for Little Star, the adventure began back in 2017 after someone tagged iskwē on Billy Talent’s video for Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats, which Legault and her team had just completed — which led to a private message from the revered Indigenous singer-songwriter herself.
It wasn’t long before Legault caught her first iskwē show at The Cotton Factory in Hamilton, which turned out to be quite an eye-opening experience.
“I was pretty moved by the show. She spoke a lot about the missing and murdered Indigenous women and I found there were all these situations happening in the country that I wasn’t personally aware of, including the story of Tina Fontaine,” Legault recalled. “It encouraged me to do some research on my own, so I went home and looked up some of these stories.”
A case that rocked not only her local community but the entire country, Fontaine’s case is considered one of the most the high-profile of dozens of missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada, which renewed calls by activists for the government to conduct national inquiries into the issue.
It was Fontaine’s story, along with that of Colten Boushie, which greatly influenced Little Star as well as the resulting video, from the creation’s red sky giving warning to a storm on the horizon, to iskwē’s red dress falling into the streets symbolizing the red river where Fontaine’s body was found.
In addition, much of the scenery was influenced by how the media represented these cases, with many newspapers sporting victim-blaming headlines in several cases.
Regardless, the message in Little Star is far from negative and was meant as more of a community song with the idea of people from all ethnicities coming together, trying to make a difference.
“I really liked that idea a lot, so we did a few video chat meetings and ended up coming up with the idea of building the cityscape for newspapers,” said Legault, adding the base of the project was the army of children, 41 figures to be exact, from all walks of life. “In the end the sky changes and the characters are able to turn into stars.”
The entire production was shot in Legault’s home in London, with each room playing host to a number of sets and equipment over six months start to finish. With the bulk of that time spent building with help from her team of 11 local artists and fabricators, along with three weeks of filming, not to mention a number of 24-hour days, to say the resulting video was a labour of love for the creator is a bit of an understatement.
Now all that hard work is more than paying off.
Earlier this year Little Star was awarded with Best Animated Short at the Forest City Film Festival and has already been dubbed an Official Selection at Cinequest Film Festival in California, which runs concurrent with the JUNO Awards.
But while it’s always amazing to be acknowledged by your peers in the field, what has resonated most for Legault is the response the work has gotten from those most affected by the tragedies themselves.
“It was a very emotional and political project. And while I wasn’t sure what the response would be, the subject matter was something important that needed to get out there,” she said. “The feedback we’ve received has been so positive, and a lot of the community members said they felt it was a very healing video for them. So, it’s been an incredibly touching and amazing experience.”