An elderly Cree man decides that before he dies he must travel via Greyhound from his remote Indian Reservation in Northern Canada, into the southern United States to visit the grave of Hank Williams. Along the way he and his travelling companion, a 17 yr old nephew, are picked up as a regional human-interest story in the US press. News of their growing celebrity causes a stir back home among an eclectic cast of locals; including a chief running desperately for re-election, a young girl trying desperately to find a prom date, a teacher trying desperately to help, and a social worker trying desperately to get a transfer. Written by
An amusing yet respectful gaze at the Cree Nation in northern Alberta
I cannot understand the low consensus ratings so far on the IMDb (4.4/10 as of today) for this lovely film, which was my personal favorite among the 15 features I saw at the recent Idaho International Film Festival in Boise. The opening night feature, this relaxed, soulful narrative film is set on tribal lands of the Woodland Cree Indians in northern Alberta, where Mr. Sorenson, the director, taught school for several years.
An aging member of the tribe longs to visit the gravesite of his favorite country musician, Hank Williams, Sr., in Nashville. His younger brother Adelard, a tribal leader, played by Gordon Tootoosis (a prominent Native Canadian actor from the Cree/Stoney First Nations in Saskatchewan), arranges for his teen grandson to accompany the old man and off they go by bus. We tune in now and then to the progress made on this junket, but most of the film is about small dramas among the folks back home. Affectionately observed by first time filmmaker Sorenson, the people and their daily lives are followed with respect and gentle humor.
All but three of the actors are first timers, amateurs. The best of these by far is Bernard Starlight, cast in the role of Huey, a young teddy bear of a fellow whose offbeat charm graces all of his contacts with others. Gordon Tootoosis is a marvelous actor whose subtle facial gestures cover a broad range of self-contained emotions. Mr. Sorenson, who was present at this screening, says that he built each of his characters upon people he got to know while teaching among the Crees.
An important goal of his film, he said, was to dispel common negative stereotypes about Native Canadians (e.g., that they are slackers and alcoholics or addicts). As Sorenson perceives them, they are typically people of integrity and faith, with a splendid sense of humor and a passion for country music; their hero, almost to a man, is Hank Williams, Sr. (who, by the way, is buried in Montgomery, Alabama, near his birthplace, not Nashville). Sorenson does touch on the issue of drug abuse, but only in an oblique manner, one that highlights a local family's resolve to take care of its own troubled relative.
Eastern Canadian film moguls turned their backs on this movie for being "too small and too regional," Sorenson told us. So he distributed the film himself in Alberta and did $140K worth of box office gross in that province alone, over half the cost of his film. Now people are interested.
There are a number of loose ends left dangling in this story: the fate of Adelard's grandson and granddaughter, the outcome of a local election, Huey's future. Fortunately, a Canadian TV producer has asked Mr. Sorenson to create several 30 minute films to follow some of these stories further, to be screened following the present feature length movie.
I asked Bruce Fletcher, the IIFF Director, how he discovered this splendid film. "Simple," Bruce said. "First of all, I'm from Alberta. My friends told me about this film. Second, I married a Cree Indian." Any more questions? Visit the film's website: www.hwfn.com. My rating: 9/10 (A-). (Film seen on 09/29/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
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