We catch up with Vignale at a local cafe where he talks about writing and producing for this new series.
DV: It's what I would call Sopranos on the rez (laughs). It's very hard-hitting. We rip from the headlines for the story lines and confront a lot of the harder issues that go on, on reservations. We lift the rug and look at the dirt underneath; we don't hide from anything. At the same time, it's very important for us that the show also presents hope, so within the arc of the season we try to steer toward something hopeful.
tV: How did you get involved with this project?
DV: I had worked with the executive producer, Ron Scott, years ago. I had been doing some writing on another show of his called Mixed Blessings, and he screened the Blackstone pilot for me. I was blown away and knew I wanted to write on this show. Fortunately he gave me the opportunity.
tV: Has there been an episode that carried a particular impact that made it challenging to write?
DV: The first season arc was around convicting a child molester. It also followed one of our lead characters, Gail (Michelle Thrush) who had a daughter who committed suicide. Gail spirals into alcoholism and the whole season is about her dealing with that. Michelle did an amazing job with that character, and that's ultimately why she won a Gemini Award for her performance.
We also go after a lot of other issues as well. The chief of the reserve is very corrupt so we tackle that always; murder cover-ups, we go after it all.
tV: What is your connection to First Nations?
DV: I think I have a great-grandmother who is First Nations but I'm actually half black so I don't really present myself as Aboriginal. Ron is Métis and very in tune with all the issues, and oversees all of that so I really look to him for direction. Outside of that, our story lines are universal. We may be focusing on a First Nations reservation but you can look in any community and find all these things. When I write I don't necessarily think I should write it a particular way because we're talking about a First Nations person. I look at the issues as being universal and I write them as telling a story that just happens to be on a reservation.
tV: How does this show compare or relate to stories you have told in the past?
DV: It's funny you should ask about my connection to the Aboriginal community. I grew up playing lacrosse, and one of the things that I was always fascinated with was the fact that that game came from the Native Americans. It was a spiritual game for them. I consider myself a spiritual person and so was always interested in that aspect of the game, so much so, that the first feature film I made, Little Brother of War, focused on that.
I'm writing on Blackstone now, and I just finished a documentary called The Exhibition, which again has Aboriginal themes. I don't know what it is. I must have some spirit guide who was an old Indian or something (laughs), but I seem to constantly find myself working with that type of material. In my work I am always interested in mythology...
(Vignale pauses briefly to greet actor John Cassini, who stars in Blackstone, as he happens into the cafe)
As a kid my grandfather used to read me stories from The Arabian Nights, so I think that's actually where it started from. Whether it be the spiritual essence around lacrosse or the Sanskrit mythology around my web series The Vitala, when I speak of the Aboriginal community I'm genuinely interested in their mythology.
tV: Can you tell us more about The Exhibition?
DV: Over the past six years I've been shooting this documentary. It's about an artist who decides to paint the 69 women on Vancouver's missing women poster, 29 of whom were found on Robert Pickton's farm, and the controversy around that artwork. It also touches on what happened to these women, who they were, and the whole botched police investigation. I have over a hundred interviews with police, advocates, and family members.
We world premiered at Hot Docs Film Festival this spring and it just played the Chicago Film Festival. I'm going to the Bergen Film Festival in Norway on friday and it's going to the United Nations Film Festival in San Francisco and it airs on Super Channel this November, so it's really making the rounds right now. It's an important film. It's very controversial because a lot of people were really opposed to the artwork, and the film tries not to say whether it is for or against it. The controversy is really only a part of it. The film ultimately tries to present an overview of who these women were, what happened to them, and how we as a society could allow it to happen. It really tries to shine a spotlight on that.
Blackstone is going into its fourth season on APTN (Aboriginal People's Television Network) and as Vignale points out, that's huge for Canada. It shoots in Alberta and around 30% of the crew and roughly 75 – 80% of the actors are from Vancouver. Check it out and support local your talent.
For more information on Vignale's work, click on Blackstone, or the exhibition