Filmmaker explores youth suicide on B.C. reserves, stars young cousin

In just 13 minutes, the short film, ʔEtsu, addresses the difficult topic of child suicide, an issue facing many First Nation reserves.

Trevor Mack released the film on YouTube this week and plans to expand the project

Director Trevor Mack's cousin, Elias Louie, plays the main character, a young boy coming to terms with the death of his grandmother. (Screen shot from ʔEtsu/YouTube)

In just 13 minutes, the short film ʔEtsu addresses the difficult topic of child suicide on reserves in British Columbia.

ʔEtsu, which translates to "grandmother" in the Tsilhqot'in language, tells the story of a young Indigenous boy who is struggling to cope with the death of a family member and touches on issues of grief, suicide and abuse.

The film has received acclaim across the country.

Director Trevor Mack, a 25-year old filmmaker from Tl'etinqox reserve, located about 350 km south of Prince George, drew on his own personal experience for the film. 

"It's a natural thing to want to tell a story of your environment of growing up and I think it all just culminated in that," Mack told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

He has also worked with the provincial health services authority for a few years to help youth from nine at-risk communities across B.C.

"It's incredibly powerful when 11-year-olds are thinking about suicide and seriously debating about actually doing it," he said. "Children should not be anywhere close to that mindset."

Trevor Mack is an award-winning Tsilhqot'in nation filmmaker, who draws on his upbringing and personal experiences in his storytelling. (Trevor Mack)

A report published last year by the B.C. Coroners Service and First Nations Health Authority found the accidental death rate for Indigenous youth in B.C. during the five-year review period was 1.9 times higher than non-Indigenous youth.

Suicide was responsible for 32 per cent of the deaths, the report found.

Mack said he hopes the short film helps draw attention to the issue.

"One of the best things about film is the healing process of talking," he said.

Passion project

The film, a passion project, was shot with a small budget on Mack's home reserve. His cousin, Elias Louie, played the main character. He was 11 at the time the film was shot.   

"I'm fortunate that he's very mature and his emotional intelligence is very high," Mack said. "We talked about the heavy subjects and he understood what this [character] was going through and he really wanted to portray that realistically."

The film has featured at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Mack released it online on YouTube this week and is planning to make a feature length film on the same topic.  

In just 13 minutes, the short film ʔEtsu addresses the difficult topic of child suicide that many reserves in British Columbia are facing and is receiving acclaim across the country. 8:27

With files from Daybreak North.

If you or someone you know needs help, there is a province-wide crisis line to call. The number is 1-800-SUICIDE.