Ian Bawa | 2022 Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency provides professional artists with time to focus on their work in the beautiful natural setting of Riding Mountain National Park, housed in the historic Deep Bay cabin.

Follow along as we feature this years’ artists-in-residence and their exciting projects!

MAC: Tell us a little about yourself as an artist and your practice.

IB: My name is Ian Bawa and I am South Asian filmmaker living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I originally went to school to become a lawyer, but after my mom passed away, I decided to drop out of law school and pursue film and have never looked back since. It has taken many years of grind, hustle, and eating “dirt” to get to the point to where I am a fulltime artist who gets to focus almost 100% of their time on their own work and am fully thankful for that.

I have worked and have made a number of different types of films (music videos, documentary, experimental, etc.), but have found that my passion lies within narrative storytelling, specifically those that are character focused. As of late, I have focused much of stories and films on my family.

Tell us about your project—what will you be working on in the Deep Bay Cabin? 

I am currently the process of writing a feature film, entitled, Strong Son. Strong Son is about a South Asian bodybuilder who has to move into his elderly father’s house in order to take care of him, and the balance he must find in maintaining his strength and mental health, while becoming his father’s primary caregiver.

Daniel Crump / Freelance. Ian Bawa and his father, Jagdeep Singh Bawa, at Ian’s childhood home in Charleswood, Winnipeg. September 7, 2020.

The film is based on a short film I made with the same name. The short film premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and has played many prestigious festivals since and is an autobiographical drama about a South Asian father as he tries to give life and marital advice to his bodybuilding and image obsessed son. The film was shot on Super 8 and stars my actual father.

Furthermore, the success of the short film allowed me to be invited back to Toronto International Film Festival to take part in their 2021 Filmmaker Lab, where I was able to workshop the concepts and story structure of the feature film version of Strong Son with acclaimed filmmakers and industry professionals.

Strong Son (both the short and feature) is a personal film about my insecurities in life, my struggle to uphold cultural traditions, and my relationship with my father.

As a kid, my dad would sometimes intimidate me. He would be the ‘bad cop,’ to my mom who played the role of the ‘good cop’. When I was 20, my mom suddenly passed away from breast cancer, and my dad and I had to learn how to live with each other’s temperaments and grief.

From there, I ended up living at home with my dad for another ten years where our relationship developed into a codependent friendship. My father, the forever introvert, did not have any friends and would never go out. To get him out of the house, I would take him to the gym with me. He wouldn’t work out; he would just come, sit on a bench, and watch me workout. It’s weird to think about it now, but at the time, it was just my way of taking care of my father.

Additionally, my father had the very old mindset that, ‘men should not cry,’ and would get upset and angry with me if he ever caught me crying, telling me that I should never show my emotions and that I need to always be ‘strong’.

Finally, Strong Son is influenced with the idea that as millennials, our parents are getting older, and there will be a point where we need to take care of them, and how emotionally and physically hard that will be when or if that day comes. Such is why our lead character (the son) needs to be “strong,” both physically and mentally.

What is your relationship with the park, and what are you most looking forward to exploring?

When I was young, my parents would on occasion rent a cabin in Riding Mountain National Park. We would spend at least a week living up there, and it felt like a mini vacation for us. For me, not having traveled much in my youth, it felt like a whole new world, and I have found memories of exploring the forest, the town, the tourist sites with my family.

I am looking forward to experiencing the nostalgia of being back up in Riding Mountain with nothing more than to work on myself and my own project. There something youthful about going to a cabin and forgetting about the world you left behind. I think that’s something I used to do as a kid when my parents and I would come up to Riding Mountain for vacation, that I have somehow lost as an adult.

How do you hope the park will influence or inspire your project?

I’m hoping the park will give me the space away from my world to write. I am now an orphan, as my father has recently passed, and despite wanting to make a film about my father and I, and what it takes to be strong, I find distractions every day in stopping me from writing. Within my own home, I am surrounded by the memory of his death and it’s hard to detach myself from it and the story I want to tell.

My goal is to use the weeks I have at the Riding Mountain facility to finish this feature script. I believe my mental health and creative juices would be better supported from a place that is far away from the mourning I have lived in over the past year. Writing a story about my father and I was never going to be easy, but having his death placed over me at the same time has proven to make the task uncomfortable, and a quiet cabin would be ideal in helping me collect my thoughts and memories into shaping and finally finishing this script.

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency is offered in partnership by the Manitoba Arts Council and Riding Mountain National Park.

Interested in the staying in the Deep Bay cabin? Find out how to apply to the Riding Mountain Artists Residency through the Learn – Residencies grant stream. Apply by November 1, 2022 for a residency in the summer of 2023.