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Hank Williams First Nation (2005)

by on 2010/07/20

In another instalment of GeekvsGoth‘s Canadian content bender during the month of July, I watched Hank Williams First Nation with my favourite pre-teen person Miss_Tree. Produced, written and directed by first-time director Aaron Sorensen, this road movie with a difference was shot in my home town of Peace River, Alberta.

I got a copy of this terrific film from a friend of mine who worked on the production. I spent the first few minutes of the film pointing at the landmarks and landscapes of my childhood home and yelling at Miss_Tree, “My town! That’s my town! That’s my bridge! That’s my bus depot!” Miss_Tree tolerated this with stoicism.

The story centres around the quirky and often painful moments in the lives of a Cree family living on a reservation in the Peace. Tabloid-reading Uncle Martin (Jimmy Herman) decides he wants to see country music great Hank Williams’ tombstone for himself after reading that celebrities in general (and Elvis and Princess Di in specific) have a habit of returning from the grave.

To convince himself his idol Hank Williams is really dead, Uncle Martin, with the help his brother Adelard (Gordon Tootoosis), enlist 17-year-old nephew Jacob (Colin Van Loon) to accompany him on this Greyhound trek to Nashville, TN.

Bribed with the offer of an IBM computer on his return, Jacob begrudingly agrees to the trip despite his elderly uncle smelling of “moose fat.” To gain the extra credit needed to graduate high school, Adelard strikes a deal with school officials to have Jacob write accounts from the road.

The story of the journey is thereby told through Jacob’s letters and poems read aloud by his sister Sarah (Stacey Da Silva) and friend Huey (Bernard Starlight), as well charming reports from the reservation radio station. I liked what one account said of the movie: “a road movie told by the people who stayed behind.”

Hank Williams First Nation is one of those cinematic experiences where the viewer can actually see the love in every detail of the film’s construction. The love was there in the long, lingering takes of the landscape, the interiors of reservation homes, the diners and buses. The camera captured moments like someone who was afraid to blink and miss something.

After the credits rolled, I couldn’t have been prouder of what this Peace River-born filmmaker accomplished on a shoestring budget using this ingenious approach to story-telling complete with quirky and honest dialogue. These elements combined with terrific performances from Gordon Tootoosis, Colin Van Loon, Bernard Starlight and Stacey Da Silva make for a film with incredible heart and authenticity.

My thanks to Mr. Sorensen for letting me go home again.

The trailer promised “a Canadian film that doesn’t suck” but as Hacker Renders and I have learned during our full system immersion into Canadian films for the month of July, Canadian films definitely don’t suck.

* * *

Rated PG

92 minutes

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