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November / December 2012
By Dave Brosha

Walking down the busy downtown streets of Northwest Territories’ capital city of Yellowknife, or on one of the many gravel roads in remote communities throughout the North, you’re not quite sure what grabs your eye first as a man seemingly always dressed in black approaches: his mischievous smile, which always seems to break into ear-to-ear proportions as soon as you come into sight, or what’s simply become known around town as “the beard”, a growth of wonder that would make Rasputin proud.

Anybody who at least has a faint pulse in the Northwest Territories arts community would recognize both the face, the beard, and the smile of Yellowknife-born artist, photographer, producer, consultant, business-owner, videographer, director, mentor, and friend-to-many, Pablo Saravanja.

This 33-year-old son of immigrant parents is one of the most recognizable and beloved Yellowknifers, and for good reason. Over the five or so years he has played a major role in advancing the film industry and those interested in the video arts in the North as a two-term president of the Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP), a non-profit arts organization that produces, supports, showcases and promotes film, video, and digital media throughout the Northwest Territories. He also has tirelessly lent his efforts since 2008 to mentoring aspiring photographers through active involvement in the Frozen Eyes Photographic Society.

Saravanja’s passion for mentoring seems to be born out of his own educational experience and his frustrations with ‘traditional’ schooling. “Mentorship played a huge role in my development as an artist, a professional, and frankly,as a human being. Like a lot of kids, I never really did ‘fit-the-mold’ of the traditional school model; teacher at the front,verbally spewing abstract knowledge… I wasn’t a terrible student, but I was completely disengaged.”

When he was a young man, it was through his exploration of the visual arts and his own personal growth through mentorship that Saravanja discovered his calling in life, and his own passion in helping others. “My actual education was delivered by mentors. My community was ripe with mentors,and they saved me… from myself, basically.” Pablo’s boyhood friend and eventual peer, Amos Scott—who has himself evolved into a well-respected producer with the Native Communications Society — remembers how the two of them found mutual satisfaction in photography: “I loved how he would challenge me with my imagery. I sometimes feel like photography helped us become adults. Now he is sharing with other northern youth just how a passion for photography can be a positive driving force in life.”

When he’s not busy with a myriad range of projects that has recently included working as a videographer on History Channel’s Ice Pilots NWT, as a fixer for the CBC television show, Arctic Air, and Director of Photography for a film called North Paws (PetNetwork/iChannel), Saravanja frequently travels the North sharing his own experiences in both video and photography to youth and adults alike, a mentoring path that started with involvement in Frozen Eyes shortly after the 2008 Arctic Winter Games, and has only grown and expanded since. In the past few years, communities that have benefited from workshops that Pablo has participated in as a mentor have included Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, and Inuvik.

“The wealth of natural creative talent in young people around theNorth is staggering,” explains Saravanja. “The pure creative potential… it’s limitless! But it’s mostly undeveloped. Artists across Canada’s Arctic are mostly self taught, and often unrecognized until they’ve matured to a point where they begin to self define as an artist.” This is where Saravanja has found a bit of a calling — helping those interested develop their potential—a selfless act that has not gone unnoticed by many in the northern film and photography industries. “Both through and beyond his photographic and film work, Pablo has ideas that actually have the capacity to create more vibrant, happy and healthy communities in the North,” says Lynn Feasey, an arts expert who served as Creative Director of Canada’s Northern House, the pan-territorial Olympic Pavilion for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Friend Camilla MacEachern agrees: “Pablo really is an arts fanatic — aside from his own artistic endeavours he is passionate about supporting his peers, whether it be through mentoring or just being the loudest cheerleader in the crowd.”

It is through his passion in the arts that Saravanja finds day-to-day satisfaction, but it is through careful consideration of what he finds inspiring and interesting that helps dictate the direction that he takes on a given month — a freedom and flexibility of career choice that many would find inspiring. “If there is someone I really like working with, or a news kill-set I’m trying to develop,or a place I’ve never been…these are considerations. I love learning, so that’s always a selling point. On the flip-side, a big contract for my company will subsidize my volunteer ism for causes that I really care about, like WAMP or Frozen Eyes, so I try to maintain a balance.”

No matter which way the wind blows him on a given month, Pablo always seems to be thinking ahead and giving thought to how not only he — but the entire northern arts scene — can positively evolve.

“If I ever stop wanting to do better I’ll know that I’ve outlived my usefulness as a mentor. I want to keep developing the local industry for film television and media arts by working with young people. I’m giving them the opportunities I had but at an earlier age. One of these days I’m going to be working for one of my apprentices and just the thought of it makes me so proud.”

Whether or not he will ever work for one or more individuals he’s encouraged or inspired, Pablo’s positive approach to life and his abundant passion shines. “I often refer to Pablo as ‘the man of mystery’,” muses MacEachern, “because it is impossible to keep up with all of his creative goings-ons. You never know what he is going to pull out of his beard, and that is what I think is his true beauty.”