Executive Producer, Writer, Director & Edit Team
A storyteller from the beginning, Jeff Bear first fell in love with the “medium of image-taking” during his days as a photojournalist with the University of Regina’s student-run newspaper Carillon. Bear had moved to Saskatchewan from his home in New Brunswick, where he was raised within the First Nation Maliseet community. Bear’s long-standing commitment to his roots was also evident from the start, with the first years of his career dedicated to the field of Native communications.
Then in 1983 he developed a taste for the moving image with the Advanced Electronic Media Course taught at Banff—at the time, “advanced electronic media” meant mixing shows on 8 tracks and editing tape to tape.
With this ambition as a guiding principle, Bear moved from his work with First Nations groups to freelancing in Ottawa. Not long after, a short-term CBC contract turned into a 3-year stint at the national broadcaster’s Toronto office.
During this period, his assignments included segments for the highly popular daily show CBC Journal. On the one hand, this high-pressure environment taught Bear how to meet the quick turn-around demanded by a daily show’s schedule. On the other hand, his experience at the Journal also supplied him with the freedom to push his personal limits. The non-linear editing techniques he picked up during this period proved invaluable in his later work on CTV’s First Story, the first national aboriginal affairs program produced prior to the launch of APTN. Over a mere three-year period, he produced 78 half-hour documentaries for the station.
Then with the launch of APTN, Bear decided it was time to set up his own independent company, Urban Rez Productions. The name was inspired by the title of a segment within First Story. The original special spotlighted Vancouver’s indigenous population, but Bear felt that the term “urban rez” was just as applicable to his company. His sense of community, and his responsibility to the people of that community, is central to the Urban Rez ethos.
As evidence of this commitment, every documentary produced by Urban Rez is translated into the traditional Maliseet language of Bear’s people. Maliseet is widely considered a dying tongue, but Urban Rez productions has managed to create a small industry for remaining speakers.
And ‘spreading the word widely’ is in large part what Bear’s work aims to achieve—not just the words of the Maliseet language, but also the word on a variety of pressing issues. Bear’s documentary series Samaqan, or Water Stories, aims to reach an audience outside the First Nations community.
Bear still adheres to the approach he applied when filming his first CBC documentary, “just letting the voices tell the story.” But in order to be heard by a wide audience, these voices need the platform that Bear’s documentaries provide.