By: Joseph Castel
This feature narrative film by first time director Adam Jones is a jarring, yet insightful movie about aboriginals in Canada, known as First Nations. Although the film deals with depressing social problems such as suicide, alcoholism, rape, incest and homophobia on the reservation, the gay men in this story rise above their difficulties and remain true to their “two spirit” identities while still honoring their families and heritage.
A college bound teen from a Northern Ontario First Nations community is torn between staying on the reservation to take care of his grief-stricken mother or leaving home for Toronto to be with his closeted boyfriend, David (Harvey Legarde) in order to live an openly gay lifestyle.
Shane (Andrew Martin), like many young men his age, finds himself completely confused with the direction of his life. He’s in love with David, a slightly feminine, traditional Anishnabe, who wants to stay on the reservation and learn how to be a medicine man from the elders. When David decides not to go with his boyfriend, Shane regrettably uses a vulnerable girl, Tara (Mary Galloway) to make David jealous by asking her to join him instead. It’s evident that it’s David he loves, which makes Shane a jerk for using Tara, who’s hopelessly in love with Shane.
It’s a credit to he director’s command of storytelling that Shane still comes off as an empathic character despite his bad behavior. Jones sets up the story by showing how much pressure Shane is under to please everyone. If he doesn’t use his college fund money, left to him by his deceased father, to repair their home, the roof will collapse. If he uses his money to repair the roof, he can’t afford to attend school. He also feels powerless to help his mother overcome her paralyzing grief from his sister’s recent suicide.
To add to his own angst, his clinging “beard” girlfriend urges him to go all the way with her. Tara’s low self-esteem makes her an easy target for Shane’s indifference and sexual confusion. He likes her, but has no real sexual feelings for her. He gives into her because it’s what’s expected of him and then he uses it to taunt David.
When Shane isn’t overwhelmed with indecisiveness, his jumbled emotions lead him to make poor choices.
Jones is very courageous to put these social issues out there because they are often rarely outside the aboriginal community. Like Canadian First Nations, Native Americans on reservations in the United States are rich in heritage and tradition, but many suffer from despair and its myriad social manifestations.
As an Alberta native of Cree-Metis descent, Jones incorporates a lot of his personal experience into his script. He channels his own depression and past suicidal thoughts through his characters in order to expose an epidemic among aboriginal teens, a crisis that goes hand in hand with substance abuse and poverty.
By dealing with the issue of homophobia on the reservation, Jones also reveals the shortcomings of those who are blinded by their own colonization. Prior to being converted to Christianity, many Native American tribes (to a certain extent) accepted LGBTQ individuals. Prior to colonization, many tribes revered transgender Native Americans for their ability to be “two spirit” and they often held spiritual leadership positions within the community. Of course, they were the first to be killed off when the European invaders arrived to the New World.
David’s character is the closest to what a real “two spirit” person would be. He would rather stay and help his community with social problems through traditional healings than go off to the city and be “whitewashed” like Shane. But David knows he cannot honor his true self if he’s not accepted amongst the elders of the tribe who see homosexuality as a sin, including his traditional Aunt Evie (Ma-Nee Cacaby). “What about when all those traditional people find out you like dick?” Shane crudely asks David. This dual conflict between heritage and identity is the heart and soul of the film.
Although Martin, Galloway, and the adorable Cacaby are exceptional actors, there are moments when they all lapse into community theatre acting, making the scenes stilted and self-conscious. But this is a minor flaw in such a powerful and meaningful film.
Jones consciously juxtaposes the dilapidated residences and its negative social environment against the surrounding beautiful marshlands.
His portrayal of the tribe’s remaining rituals and traditions, such as smudging to clear away negative spirits, and drum circles are also done respectfully and with authenticity. Jones also provides a jolt of realism by having some of the characters reject certain First Nation traditions and beliefs as opposed to idealizing a culture that is actually slipping away from them.
Fire Song has been released on DVD/VOD by Wolfe Video and across all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and WolfeOnDemand.com http://wolfeondemand.com/.