Actors starring in Three Feathers, a film based on a graphic novel by Fort Smith, N.W.T., author Richard Van Camp, will be learning more than their lines as shooting gets underway this week in the community.
The movie is being made in four languages: English, Chipewyan, South Slavey and Bush Cree, and the same performers will be reciting their lines in all four.
"What we are doing is actually creating four movies, one in each language," said Brent Kaulback with the South Slave Divisional Education Council, which is producing the film.
The actors are almost all from the Fort Smith area, but few are fluent in any language but English.
"Some actors do speak either Cree or Chipewyan, but most of them don't speak the languages," he said.
To help them, actors will be provided with a script and audio of their lines in each language. They will also be coached by language experts, who will be on set when the scenes are shot to make sure what is being said is correct.
"I don't know if we really understood the magnitude of what we are now doing when we said, 'Well if we're going to do this movie, we want to really celebrate our aboriginal languages, so let's do it in these languages,'" Kaulback said.
He said they wanted to show that the languages are alive and functional, and hope the film will work as a teaching tool in the future. But it's a huge undertaking, one Kaulback says, based on his research, hasn't been done quite like this before in Canada.
"There are examples of having several aboriginal languages spoken in a single movie but what we are doing is creating four different movies."
The movie's storyline is about restorative justice, where three young men who get into trouble have to go out on the land for nine months.
Chipewyan teacher Eileen Beaver not only has a role in the film but is one of the language coaches that will be working with the cast to teach them their Chipewyan lines. She admits the language has its challenges.
"Some of the sounds can be hard to grasp for novice speakers or those who haven't heard it or used those words," she said.
"But once they learn how to do it, it gets easier."
The language expectations didn't deter people from auditioning. Almost 40 people showed up to try out for 22 parts.
"People were genuinely excited by the prospect," said Kaulback.
"It was like, wow, I am going to be able to speak four different languages."
Right now the shoot is planned for 19-20 days over March, June and September, but it might need to be extended.
"As we get into doing four different takes for each scene, then we'll really know how much time that's going to take," said Kaulback.
That may depend on how quickly and easily the cast learns all those lines, but Beaver said she isn't worried.
"Oh no, they'll do it," she said. "I'll make sure of it. We don't have time to fool around."