Zoe Hopkins, creator of the movie Run Woman Run, talked with scriptwriting students on March 27, offering insights about filmmaking and writing. Photo credit: Noah Leafloor

Posters of Run Woman Run and Kayak to Klemtu stood in the background of Zoe Hopkins’ room as she talked about her triumphs and tribulations in the film industry with scriptwriting students.

Hopkins, a Heiltsuk First Nation, who is also fluent in the Mohawk language, has been a Canadian writer and filmmaker since graduating from Ryerson in 1997. She joined the Algonquin College scriptwriting students via Zoom on March 27 to discuss her career, give insights on writing and answer their questions.

“She’s a brilliant writer,” said Teri Loretto, coordinator of the scriptwriting and performing arts programs.

Kerry Potts, a professor and Indigenous pedagogy and curriculum consultant, brought Hopkins in for the Zoom call.

“It was important to introduce the uncovered class concepts, but also to show how Indigenous filmmakers are telling great stories,” said Loretto.

“There weren’t very many roles for people like me,” said Hopkins. She talked about her love for acting and how it was hard finding work as a First Nation woman. She was in a movie called Black Robe in 1991 at age 15. She felt disheartened about the lack of roles for people like her, so she decided to make valuable Indigenous stories through film.

The scriptwriting students watched her most recent lighthearted, but emotional film made during the pandemic called Run Woman Run; there was not a single dry eye.

“It’s like your culture was taken away and you have to find it again,” said Rina Gencher, a scriptwriting student.

Run Woman Run addresses the intergenerational trauma that Indigenous people live with. As a Jewish person, Gencher connected with this because it reminds her of the trauma Jewish people have faced.

Through Hopkins’ career, she’s learned to not let other people affect her work.

“If you hear a note, it doesn’t have to ring true,” said Hopkins. “I’ve come from people who’ve had their dreams crushed.”

Hopkins has faced the industry’s casting traditions many times. She doesn’t let anybody replace her cast with white actors because she wants Indigenous culture and actors to feel represented. “When they say cast someone with a little more clout, they mean a white person,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins learned to be who she is today through two women’s mentorship and guidance. “Mentorship is so important. I wouldn’t be who I am without their guidance,” said Hopkins.

And with that guidance and support, Hopkins is glad to give it all back.

“I feel like I get to give back after getting help,” she said.

“Run Woman Run was one of the best things to show to my community,” Hopkins said. While producing the film, she used her home community as the set, and once it was finished they all went to watch it together.

The hardest part of Hopkins’ job is “putting my body in the chair,” she said. “But it’s all worth it once the first joke hits and people laugh. All my worries go away.”