CANMORE – Hosting thought-provoking evenings designed to spark discussion in the community, Indigenous 150+ films serve as a platform to dive deep into contemporary issues facing Indigenous communities.
The latest Indigenous 150+ film The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw screened at artsPlace on Feb. 18 broke stereotypes and opened people's eyes to the experience of some Indigenous communities.
Written and directed by Shelley Niro, The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw tells the story of a young Indigenous woman who returns to her home reservation to help her father and bitter and ill mother who is a residential school survivor.
Mitzi, played by Angeline Morningstar, is an aspiring high fashion hat designer who reluctantly returns to her home leaving behind the big city to reconnect with her family and culture on her isolated island home.
“It’s a rom(antic) com(edy) dram(a),” Niro said with a laugh. “When she gets there it's not as bad as she remembers or thought it would be. She finds happiness and she resolves her issues and life goes on.”
She has been working on this story since 2005, Niro said, explaining that she was inspired by media coverage of youth living on reservations.
“It’s not always happy,” she said.
“I wanted to make something that people could relate to … I was trying to share joy and familiarity with people who will be watching the film.”
The initial inspiration for the project was thinking about the high suicide rates on reserves, she said, explaining she wanted to explore the ideas of alienation, isolation and loneliness.
Niro worked to tell a rich story that shed light on issues affecting Indigenous communities in Canada sprinkled with moments of hilarity and joy.
“I think laughing is a healing ingredient in our lives that we look for,” Niro said.
“It’s something we depend on. If you don’t have humour in your life, you have a very sad life.”
While there are powerful moments of heartbreak in the film, Niro said she hopes audiences leave the theatre feeling good with a deep appreciation and understanding of Indigenous cultures and communities.
“You start from one little seed of something,” Niro said, explaining that she hopes audiences carry the lessons they learn with them out of the theatre.
It can be a spark that lights a fire in audiences inspiring to hopefully learn more and keep the conversation going – a key goal of Indigenous 150+ events presented by artsPlace.
Stoney Nakoda First Nation member and knowledge keeper Thomas Snow said he appreciated the joyful portrayal of Indigenous people and culture in the movie along with the conversations it was able to generate afterwords.
“I think a lot of the media can be controversial, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes it highlights traumatizing events and a lot of hurts,” Snow said.
“There can’t be too much of that because what I think I found about this film was it captured that whole range of emotions – there was happiness, there was love, there was family, there was a hardship, there was death, but people were coming together in this display of resilience.”
Snow said it is important for people to see and experience movies like The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw.
He highlighted one scene where Mitzi, her father and her cousin are sitting on the porch sipping on coffee. Snow said it reminded him of his own family. It was a great scene because he said rarely do audiences get to see Indigenous people sitting around enjoying each other's company.
“It’s a regular part of our lives,” Snow said with a chuckle.
At the same time, the movie subtly highlighted issues like lack of clean drinking water on many reserves.
At one point when Mitzi is being brought to her home island by boat by her love interest and handsome medicine man Honeyboy Yellowdog, played by Ajuawak Kapashesit, bottled water for the community is brought in as well.
“That’s part of our reality, that’s part of our lived experience,” Snow said.
“It’s the small things that often get overlooked, but those are the day-to-day things that make up the bigger story. That’s important.”
Snow said he appreciates the discussion after watching the movie because the dialogue covered a wide range of topics that enrich people’s understanding of Indigenous culture, the environment and more.
“What I hope people realize is that shattering of stereotypes,” Snow said.
“It’s beyond trauma, it’s beyond drug addiction and hurt. We are complete loving, amazing human beings with unique cultures across the land.”
The movie was a rich text that talks about spirituality as well covering a diverse number of nations, Snow said, connecting audiences with important cultural touchstones.
“It was really great I think more people should watch and they can enjoy it,” Snow said.
The next Indigenous 150+ movie coming to artsPlace is Blood Memory on May 5. The film explores the untold story of America's Indian adoption era.
The film is being shown in partnership with The Whyte Museum. The creative team behind the movie will be on hand after the screening for a question and answer period.