Less than a year after making a splash at the 2022 Toronto Film School Film Festival, Radio Bingo is now set to mark its world premiere at the Academy Award-recognized Atlanta Film Festival this week.
Written and directed by Class of 2022 Video Production valedictorian Shelby Adams, the eight-minute documentary short details how an Indigenous radio station on the Akwesasne reservation she calls home has begun incorporating Mohawk into its weekly games of Radio Bingo to help revitalize the once-stolen language.
Radio Bingo is scheduled to debut on the big screen at the Atlanta Film Festival this Thursday, April 27.
“It’s such an honour to be premiering this film in Atlanta. I’ve never been there before, so I’m pretty excited about going, seeing what opportunities there are for networking, and sharing this story,” the Mohawk filmmaker said of the film, which follows her community on the Ontario-Quebec-New York State border as they attempt an innovative new way to relearn a language lost at the hands of government-sponsored, church-run residential and Indian Day schools.
“We are a proud people, so I’m incredibly excited to present this film about our quirky guilty pleasure, as well as educate audiences about Mohawk history.”
Describing Radio Bingo as a deeply personal story, Adams said that when the idea first came to her to make it into a documentary for her sixth-term Documentary Production class project, she initially had reservations, because she knew it would need to cover some uncomfortable and upsetting subject matter.
“It tells the painful story of residential schools and Indian day schools, but on the flip side of that, it’s also about a community coming together to take back a language that was stolen from them, so that they can pass it on to the next generation – and using the game of Bingo as a driving force to make it happen,” she said.
“In the end, I knew I had to tell this story, because you just don’t find these stories in history books.”
It was just that unique perspective that drew Adams’ instructor-turned-executive-producer, Steven Hoffner, to the project immediately. Initially submitted as a class assignment, he said he knew right from the treatment stage that Radio Bingo was something special.
“It’s projects like this one that really keep me going as a teacher. When Shelby submitted her treatment, I remember reading it and going, ‘Oh wow! This is really original.’ I knew the concept and premise were really different than anything I’d ever seen before,” he said.
“And then, when she came back with the rough draft, I remember sitting there in a hotel room in Tampa and just bawling my eyes out – it was really powerful.”
From there, armed with some additional notes from Hoffner, Adams came back with an even more exceptional final edit – one Hoffner said he couldn’t help but insist she to submit to the 2022 TFS Film Fest.
It was there, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre, that the film not only won the award for Best Canadian Short Film, but also caught the eye of Toronto Film School’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning President, Andrew Barnsley.
“This film is exactly the type of story we need more of,” said Barnsley, who ultimately joined Hoffner as one of Radio Bingo’s executive producers, and has also put the film in development as a scripted half-hour TV series through his award-winning company, Project 10 Productions.
“The moment I saw Shelby’s film I knew it was something special. I’m just thrilled to be able to help her tell her story and turn this into something bigger.”
For Shelby, who always envisaged Radio Bingo as a potential television series, getting that kind of validation from Barnsley was a dream come true – particularly because it increases the likelihood of getting the story of her community out to an even larger audience.
“Telling these kinds of stories is important. I’m an Indigenous filmmaker, so for me, perspective matters, authenticity matters, and lived experience matters,” she said.
“I want people to watch Radio Bingo and see my community and think, ‘Wow, that is a pretty amazing community.’ Yes, bad things happen in my community, but a lot of really good things happen there, as well – and I really want people to see that.”
As for what’s next for Radio Bingo, Hoffner said he’s hoping that the film’s world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival will serve at the momentum necessary to land it a slot at a ‘big-name’ festival at which to celebrate its Canadian premiere in the near future.
But whatever lies ahead for the film, Hoffner said he’s proud of all Adams has been able to accomplish with Radio Bingo, which he helped video and story edit.
“In many ways, as a teacher, an instructor, and a program coordinator, it’s almost like your students are your children in a way, and when you see them grow up and succeed, there’s a great satisfaction in that,” said Hoffner, Coordinator of the Video Production program.
“One of the goals of this program is to give a platform to artists of all backgrounds and generations – so to hear from such an original voice like Shelby’s was so important. It validates why I joined Toronto Film School – to find, nurture and work with artists like Shelby. She is definitely one to watch and it’s a privilege to help her elevate this story.”