The Northwest Territories was in the spotlight last week at the Toronto International Film Festival with the premiere of two films featuring the talents of Northerners.
Hay River-born filmmaker Kelvin Redvers celebrated the world premiere of his short-film “The Dancing Cop” in the Short Cuts section of the festival following the highly-anticipated debut of The Lesser Blessed, a film based on the NWT-set novel by Richard Van Camp and starring Fort Smith newcomer Joel Evans.
Redvers, a First Nations director and actor for whom achieving a screening at TIFF had been a long-coveted dream, said the debut of his seven-minute short was the highlight of his career, so far.
“I’ve been making movies for about 10 years now, and ever since I was growing up in Hay River, you always know about the Toronto International Film Festival,” he told The Journal from Toronto, adding that he had applied several times in the past, but was only just accepted. “So it feels like after a decade of making films, to have this sweet, sweet moment is just immensely satisfying. It’s the reason that one makes movies, to watch it with an audience, and TIFF is one of the top two or three prestigious festivals in the world. So it doesn’t get any better.”
“The Dancing Cop” is a musical satire exploring the relationship between First Nations and police. Redvers said the film was loosely inspired by the work of fellow First Nations filmmaker, Lisa Jackson, whose short-film “Savage” was a residential school zombie musical.
“It was very tongue in cheek, very well done and very playful for what is a very serious topic, and in high school I always liked to do films about topics that I felt were serious and pressing, but would put a spin on them to make them a little more fun or accessible to an audience member,” he said. “So that was the goal with this one. I don’t want to push my audience away by lingering on deep, heavy scenes, so this was a way to spice it up to make it a little more fresh and unique.”
Redvers said the film got the reaction he wanted and hopefully sparked some dialogue around the issue.
“There were laughs when we were hoping there’d be laughs; there was reverent silence when we hoped there would be silence,” he said. “And after the screening, we had a lot of audience members come up and shake our hands and say they really liked the film and talked about moments they liked, and pretty much everyone talked to us about what it was we were aiming for. So I don’t think it could have went better.”
For the sold-out debut of The Lesser Blessed, which received a standing ovation after its showing on Sunday, a similar victory was proclaimed.
“It was more than a dream come true,” said Van Camp, who saw his novel appear on screen for the first time at the festival. “You could hear people holding their breath; you could feel people holding their breath. There was a lot of shock at how brutal the fight scenes are, but at the same time, to be in an audience and to feel people holding their breath during certain scenes was something I’ll never forget.”
Van Camp said he expects the film to create waves in the cinema world and launch the cast and crew into high-profile places.
“This movie, we’re sitting on a gold mine here, because once it’s out there, there’s no stopping it. We signed a deal with Movie Central, I’m sure we’re going to be showing it internationally at film festivals, and there’s going to be a lot of international buzz about this film for a very long time,” he said.
Both “The Dancing Cop” and The Lesser Blessed will be shown at the Yellowknife International Film Festival at the end of the month, Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, respectively, though The Lesser Blessed’s Northern premiere will be on Oct. 1 in Fort Smith to celebrate the town’s birthday.