Torronto International Film Festival 2019
Asia Youngman: "I always had a passion for film but my passion for filmmaking was something that I realised in the past couple of years."
World Premiere | 16 minutes
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In this vivid and moving documentary by Asia Youngman, Indigenous artists throughout Canada strive to reclaim their cultures and identities through a reawakening of tattoo practices, both traditional and contemporary.

Hey Asia, thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?

Great thanks! Incredibly busy, but life is good.

As this will be the World Premiere of This Ink Runs Deep at TIFF, are there any nerves ahead of the screening?

Absolutely. I always get a bit nervous before a screening no matter how big or how small. I also think every filmmaker's greatest fear is that their DCP won't play properly haha.

Does being nominated for the Short Cuts Award add any additional pressure on you?

Honestly not at all. To have our world premiere at TIFF is already more than I could ask for, and I'm just extremely excited to be attending the festival with this film.

Tell me a little bit about This Ink Runs Deep, how did this film come about?

This Ink Runs Deep is about the reclamation and revitalisation of Indigenous tattoo practices. It also reflects the growing pride that's happening across Canada as we embrace our culture and who we are as Indigenous people. The film initially came about through my producers who had pitched the idea to CBC. The project was greenlit but they were in need of a director so they reached out to me. I've always been really interested in learning about different tattoo practices around the world and I also have quite a few tattoos myself. However, I realised I didn't know very much about the work that my own people were doing right here in Canada. I ended up meeting them for coffee to hear more about the project and we hit it off right away. We were flying across Canada and in full production mode one month later.

When did you discover the work that Indigenous artists were doing?

I travelled to New Zealand last spring and while I was there I learned about the ta moko that the Maori practice. At that point, I had heard of some traditional methods of tattooing that were happening in Canada, such as skin stitching, but I had never seen it done before. I also didn't know much about the process or the significance of these tattoos. It was such a privilege for me to discover this work, and it also inspired me to learn and research more about the traditional tattoos of my own nations.

Who was the first artist you spoke to, was it easy to get people to be part of your film?


Dion Kaszas was the first artist who came on board and he is quite well known and connected through his work as a cultural tattoo practitioner with the Earthline Tattoo Collective. The Indigenous tattoo community is pretty close-knit so everyone is a bit familiar with each other's work. There is also a common goal in terms of the work being done to uplift communities and pass on this knowledge, so I think there was a lot of interest from artists to become involved in the project because of that willingness to share these teachings.

"The project was greenlit but they were in need of a director so they reached out to me."

What was the most challenging part of making this film been for you?

Since our subjects were living in different parts of Canada, I didn't get a chance to meet them prior to shooting or do any location scouting. This was challenging because relationship building is so vital for me, especially when doing a documentary. Another challenge we faced was that one of our subjects cancelled on us last minute while we were already in production. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I found one of our subjects, Jana Angulalik, on Instagram and we ended up flying her from Nunavut to Vancouver to film with us a few days after. She is such a beautiful person and I couldn't imagine the film without her.

How much of this scene did you know before you started filming?

We had a vague idea of settings we could utilize in each location we visited. For example, we knew we wanted to film inside Gregory William's tattoo studio "Haida Inkk" and we also knew we wanted to film at Acadia University where Dion works. We were able to get a sense of some of these spaces through pictures that our subjects sent us or by researching online, but overall we had to figure out most of it along the way and we didn't always know what to expect.

Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently on this film?

In terms of the story, probably not. From a technical standpoint, there are definitely a few things I would have done differently. But the great thing is that you learn so much with each project through trial and error and the overall experience. It's the only way to grow as a filmmaker.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking? 

I always had a passion for film but my passion for filmmaking was something that I realised in the past couple of years. I made my first film in 2017 and it was definitely that "aha" moment. Although a part of me wishes I had discovered it earlier, I feel like it happened at the right time in my life. All of my prior education and experiences shaped me as an artist and who I am today, and in a way, filmmaking came full circle for me. I think that's pretty cool.

How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut short?

When I first started filmmaking, I used to feel like I needed to do everything myself. I produced, wrote, directed, filmed and edited the first few films that I made. Now I'm at a place where I want to collaborate as much as I can and I want those fresh perspectives. I'm specifically focusing on directing now and I want to challenge myself with my upcoming projects and get a bit out of my comfort zone. 

How best would you describe This Ink Runs Deep?

The film really reflects the title in that it's about so much more than just tattooing. It's about identity, family, love, loss, culture, and the importance of passing these teachings down to the next generation. 

Do you have any tips or advice you could offer a fellow director?

For directors who are just starting out, my best advice is fake it to you make it. Ignore the imposter syndrome and the fear that you can't do or achieve something. Also, make connections and network as much as you can. You never know who you will meet at a local screening or filmmaker meet-up and where it could lead.

And finally, what do you think has been the most important lesson you have taken away from making This Ink Runs Deep?

One of the most important lessons I learned from making This Ink Runs Deep was how essential it is to work with a team of people that you trust and respect and who will support you. Filmmaking takes a village, and I was fortunate to have an incredible team to work with and amazing subjects who really are the heart of this film.

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