The nominations for the Rogers Best Canadian Feature Award have been announced, and the critically-acclaimed film Beans directed by Tracey Deer has made the cut.
The powerful coming-of-age story set to the backdrop of the Siege of Kanesatake (aka Oka Crisis) is one of three films nominated for this prestigious award, alongside Night Raiders and Scarborough.
Deer noted that the film’s story is one that she has wanted to tell since she was a young girl dreaming of becoming a filmmaker.
“To have finally achieved it is in itself incredibly fulfilling,” she said. “But the impact it’s having on audiences, and the recognition of being nominated [for this award] is a huge honour that I’m both overwhelmed by and grateful for.”
All three films nominated include Indigenous main characters, and two of the three films are Indigenous-directed and engaging with the current and historic realities of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Night Raiders stars Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Blackfoot from the Kainai First Nation and Sámi from Norway, and its director is the Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet. Set in the future, the film is a dystopian thriller inspired by the residential school system and the militaristic response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016.
The award is presented by the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) and comes with a cash prize of $100,000, with the runners-up each bringing home $5,000 as well.
Johanna Schneller, president of the organization, said that there is a precedent for Indigenous films being in the running for this award. Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn won it in 2019, and Zacharias Kunuk in 2002.
“We try to keep an eye on all kinds of interesting cinema, world cinema, local cinema, and there’s just a lot of strong filmmakers in the Indigenous community,” she said.
Kelly Boutsalis, Kanien’kehá:ka from Six Nations, is one of the judges for the TFCA awards. She can’t divulge anything about the judges’ deliberations, but she shared her perspective on this year’s nominations.
“It was a really good year for Indigenous filmmakers and Indigenous stories,” she said. “I just loved all of these films, and I was really excited to get to celebrate them.”
She said it was remarkable to her the success with which both films tackle issues Onkwehón:we face today, such as land claims and the effects of colonialism, through stories taking place in the past and the future.
“I really like that Beans took something that happened in our history and made it a compelling story for today’s audiences across Canada to learn that this is the continuing history of Mohawk people and Indigenous people,” she said.
Schneller said that the TFCA’s critics appreciated the way Beans tells the story of a complex and charged standoff through the eyes of a child. They also recognized that this story is deeply personal to Deer and admired her commitment to sharing a side of the story that many had not had the ability to encounter before.
“Those of us who remember the Crisis, we were told one point of view about it, the point of view of the media, which was largely white media,” she explained. “We appreciated how this film was able to tell the story of the crisis from inside.”
Boutsalis and Schneller agreed that choosing a winner out of these three nominations will be no easy feat. Their choice will be announced in early March.
In the meantime, Deer is in awe of how well her film has been received as it continues to garner awards and nominations.
“It’s the best feeling as a filmmaker to know something you’ve created is being seen and appreciated,” she said. “I’m so thankful to everyone who was involved in the film and all of the people who have been a part of my journey to get here.”
Savannah Stewart is a writer, editor and translator from Montreal currently reporting with The Eastern Door. She is the contributing editor for the arts for Cult MTL and her work has also appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Ricochet, Maisonneuve Magazine and The Rover. She tweets at @SavannahMTL.