Tanya Beatty and Brandon Oakes star in Through Black Spruce, an adaptation of the Giller Prize-winning novel by Canadian author Joseph Boyden, playing March 9 at the Salmar Classic. (File photo)

Through Black Spruce, film adaptation of Giller Prize-winning novel, to play the Classic

Cinemaphile by Joanne Sargent

Our next Film Society movie is Through Black Spruce, an adaptation of the Giller Prize-winning novel by Canadian author Joseph Boyden.

It’s a fictional story centred around a young woman’s disappearance and how it traumatizes her northern Ontario family, but subtly includes issues facing Indigenous communities, both in the rural and urban context. The impact of a missing family member is explored from two different perspectives – that of the missing girl’s sister, Annie, and that of their uncle, Will.

Suzanne Bird long ago left her remote Cree community, with her boyfriend, and scored some success as a fashion model in Toronto and New York before she disappeared. Determined to learn the fate of her sister, Annie Bird, more comfortable with traditional life than the city, leaves home in Moosonee, Ont., to retrace her sister’s steps and investigate the circles Suzanne ran in. Once in the city, Annie falls prey to the same seductions of the high-fashion world Suzanne became a part of. A photographer tells her, “you’re exactly the look people want right now,” and sees her as a suitable replacement for her missing sister. As she finds herself slipping into her sister’s lifestyle, Annie realizes she might be jeopardizing her own life.

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While Annie navigates the big city, there are devastating consequences reverberating in Moosonee, a community plagued with drug problems. Uncle Will, a former bush pilot who has struggled with alcoholism and is trying to reconcile the ghosts of his past, is at odds with the local drug dealers. He fights to free himself and his community of fear and corruption, a cause that results in Will being severely beaten and hospitalized. Broken in different ways, both Will and Annie come to painful discoveries about their own identities and the inescapable ties of family.

The movie has a marquee cast of Indigenous talent featuring veterans Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene and with career-making performances by Brandon Oakes as Uncle Will and a dazzling and charismatic Tanaya Beatty of Vancouver as Annie.

Rated 14A, Through Black Spruce shows Saturday, March 9 at 5 p.m. at the Salmar Classic Cinema.


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