Arts·Queeries

With the gorgeous film Wildhood, Bretten Hannam is pushing Two-Spirit stories onto the awards stage

This year's Canadian Screen Awards mark a huge moment for queer BIPOC projects, including Sort Of and Scarborough.

This year's Canadian Screen Awards mark a huge moment for queer BIPOC projects

Canadian Screen Award nominees Joshua Odjick (left) and Phillip Lewitski in Wildhood. (TIFF)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

Canada is in the midst of a week-long celebration of the country's best in both film and television. The Canadian Screen Awards will culminate on Sunday with a telecast that presents the top categories in both mediums. And among the primary contenders this year? Some truly exceptional queer storytelling.

The Canadian Screen Awards are no strangers to celebrating LGBTQ content. Schitt's Creek is coming off an astounding run (winning roughly a thousand trophies during its five seasons) and the film awards have long been ahead of their American counterparts, crowning their first LGBTQ best picture (John Greyson's Lilies) way back in 1996. But the content they've honoured has pretty much exclusively been by and about queer white people (in addition to Schitt's Creek and Lilies, the work of Xavier Dolan, Léa Pool, Patricia Rozema and Thom Fitzgerald has all been repeatedly fêted).

This year is different. Going into the awards, a mighty trio of queer BIPOC projects have a collective (and very impressive) haul of 30 nominations: the films Scarborough and Wildhood, and the TV series Sort Of

Both Scarborough and Sort Of have — very deservedly — already received a considerable amount of attention. Scarborough was runner-up for the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (a rare feat for a Canadian film) and was playing to packed houses when it began its run in cinemas earlier this year. Sort Of aired in the U.S. on HBO Max (an equally rare feat for a Canadian TV series) and was named by this very column as one of "the 10 series that made 2021 the best year ever for queer TV." So I'd like to take a little space to spotlight Wildhood, a truly remarkable film that deserves as much consideration as its counterparts.

Wildhood. (TIFF)

Written and directed by Two-Spirit L'nu filmmaker Bretten Hannam, Wildhood is nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, including three for Hannam (best picture, best director and best original screenplay). Hannam's feature film debut follows Two-Spirit Mi'kmaw teenager Link (Phillip Lewitski) as he discovers and explores both his sexuality and his Mi'kmaw heritage. His guide is Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), a drifter who Link and his half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) happen upon as they hit the road trying to escape their abusive father. Wildhood riffs on the road movie genre as the three of them try and find Link's estranged mother, with Link and Pasmay falling for each other along the way.

The film is extraordinarily accomplished (particularly for a first feature), with Hannam's direction and screenplay thoughtfully charting Link's awakening against the stunning landscapes of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley (traditional Mi'kmaw territory). It has a lot to say in the process — about being Indigenous in Canada, about family, about queer love, about intersectional identities — and it navigates all of this elegantly, never feeling heavy-handed or melodramatic. And this is certainly aided by the fact that its lead actors offer incredible vulnerability and depth in their performances (Lewitski and Odjick both were nominated for CSAs too, and honestly both deserve to win). 

When Wildhood premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, Hannam wrote an essay for CBC Arts about the decade-long journey it took to get the film made.

"It's easy to imagine a writer sitting in a room, surrounded by notebooks and stacks of old coffee cups, but the truth of this story is found among roots and rivers, sharing food and tea and jokes," Hannam writes. "Wildhood is a story that has been guided and shaped by the community through the many stages of film progress — script, photography, editing, sharing. And it is more than a single tale told by one person — it becomes a circle, a cycle that is rooted in community, or L'nuewey, a Mi'kmaw sense of knowing and experience."

Bretten Hannam, (left) speaks with Phillip Lewitski and Joshua Odjick, on the set of Wildhood. Production took place in the Annapolis Valley along the Bay of Fundy in Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia) in the summer of 2020. (Photo Credit: Riley Smith)

Hannam goes on to write about how Wildhood represents the fact that stories are "the reflections of the values and teachings we find around us."

"We look to nature to learn and find ways to live in a good way, and in nature, we find variety and variation," they say. "At its heart, Wildhood is a Two-Spirit story because of this — there is more than a binary, more than a rigid system of categorization. That transformation is part of it, but it's also more than that; there is movement, fluidity, and becoming. Growth. In this circle, gender and sexuality exist in many forms, shifting and moving without restraint. Two-Spirit identity extends deep in the earth and the roots below and upwards to the sky, clouds, and seasons. It's more than a label that expresses gender and sexuality (even as it does both) — it is a many-faceted identity that includes aspects of spirituality, emotional reality and experience, and cultural knowledge. Two-Spirit is an identity as rich and varied as the animals and plants that surround us."

Hannam is the first Two-Spirit filmmaker nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best director, and Wildhood marks the first film focused on Two-Spirit characters to be nominated for best picture. That is certainly cause for celebration, and hopefully opens the door for more Two-Spirit storytelling to find its way to Canadian screens.

You can rent Wildhood from TIFF's digital screening room now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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