Local filmmakers seek funding for documentary film

‘This is what real life is about’: documentary film explores the life of Steven Stark, an Indigenous man who overcame trauma and addiction.
Nolan McAllister on the set of his documentary film about Steven Stark. Photo by EMP Media Services.

A Kamloops-based Indigenous filmmaker, Nolan McAllister, is making a documentary film exploring the story of how one man is recovering from a traumatic childhood, homelessness and addiction to become a giving community member and businessman. 

McAllister, whose ancestral heritage is Métis, Cree and Assiniboine from the Red River settlement, is producing a documentary about Steven Stark (Slə́qsit) from the Tsawwassen First Nation with the help of local mental health counsellor Karan Lara. The documentary’s goal is to shed light on Stark’s story and give hope to others who want to embark on a healing journey, and the team is currently seeking funding for the project.

Who is Steven Stark?

Stark wants to share his story through a documentary film because he says he’s one of the few people within his community open to discussing his struggles publicly.

“I’m one of very few males in my group that are willing to share about mental illness, sexual abuse, physical abuse,” Stark explained. “I do take the opportunity to try to share wherever I can, trying to get more people to not be afraid to talk about it or even to get people to come forward from the film.”

Born in Chilliwack, Stark moved around with his mother and stepfather throughout his childhood, experiencing physical and sexual abuse. He was eventually kicked out of his home by 15. His family bought him a one-way ticket to Vancouver, where he connected with his estranged biological father from Tsawwassen. 

His father introduced him to smoking crack, and Stark spent subsequent years travelling between Alberta and B.C. and going to jail at various times.

He eventually went to rehab and started working in the fishing industry alongside a mentor who took him in while he was in recovery before going back to school for carpentry. 

Stark now owns Tsawwassen Shuttles Inc., has served as an elected official with Tsawwassen First Nation, is a father, built his own home and has 18 years of sobriety.

“I’ve had some huge struggles, but there’s a desire inside of me that’s never gonna allow anything hold me down,” Stark told SPIN.

Filmmakers seek funding

The next step for the film about Stark’s life is securing funding for production, and the crew has a goal of fundraising between $250,000 and $500,000. 

McAllister says the budget is necessary to produce a high quality documentary, using various techniques to shift the perspective of the audience.

“I don’t want it to feel like you’re watching a documentary or these random moments of his life. I want everything to be very strategic and specific.”

He describes the documentary film as narrative-driven and uses storytelling techniques like developing flashback scenes and changing aspect ratios to keep the audience involved from scene to scene.

Because it’s a documentary, McAllister noted the more research they uncover about Stark’s life, the more the narrative shifts and grows.

The evolving nature of the film is symbolic of Stark’s journey and steps away from traditional narratives around the complexity of being a human.

“Life is not linear,” Lara explained. “It’s circular. We keep revisiting things and relearning things. This is what real life is about.”

To learn more about the upcoming documentary film or to become a sponsor, visit the production’s website, Steven Stark Film.

Changing public narratives

Many of the experiences Stark candidly shares are narratives McAllister hasn’t personally come across before, including reading a transcription of a counselling session where Stark described his first time using crack cocaine.

“It’s bone chilling…I’ve never read something like that before where someone’s talking about their first interaction with crack,” McAllister said.

However, for Lara, who works with people who use drugs, stories like Stark’s are common.

“This is trauma counselling,” Lara explained. “These are stories that I hear in Indigenous community and non-Indigenous community – from street-entrenched folks really struggling with substance abuse and poverty to extremely successful wealthy people, to middle-class families.”

Steven Stark now owns Tsawwassen Shuttles Inc., has served as an elected official with Tsawwassen First Nation, is a father, built his own home and has 18 years of sobriety. Photo by EMP Media Services.

The difference between what Lara sees as a trauma counsellor and what the average person understands about mental health and substance use relates to historical concepts about the topics she explained. 

“Our historical idea of mental health is very connected to pathology, and would actually be  a very, very small percentage of the population,” she said.”In reality, we all have mental health, we all have an emotional experience. We all have a cognitive experience, this is just part of life. But we’ve boxed it into a really unusable definition.”

For Lara, working on the film helps to shift these narratives for a broader understanding of mental health and enacting the principles of Truth and Reconciliation.

“A function of the film is: how can we actually create change through this, how can we enact the Truth and Reconciliation principles? How can we shift the language, the discourse around mental health?”

McAllister echoed that sentiment and highlighted that promoting Stark’s story and specifically opening up conversations about men’s mental health can help other people going through similar experiences.

“Maybe hearing someone else who has overcome that trauma and is still battling but found a way to cope and move forward in a positive way – that might spark change in their own lives.”

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