Saskatoon

Sask. filmmaker's first feature explores society's lack of balance with the natural world

‘Don’t say its name’ is a supernatural thriller directed and co-written by filmmaker Rueben Martell, from Saskatchewan's Waterhen First Nation. Martell said listening to news around missing and murdered Indigenous women and Wet'suwet'en protests propelled him to capture the ongoing injustices in his work. The eco-thriller explores society’s lack of balance with the natural world.

'Horror in our real lives became a theme,' says Cree filmmaker Rueben Martell

Rueben Martell said listening to news around missing and murdered Indigenous women and Wet'suwet'en protests, among others, inspired him to showcase the ongoing injustices in his feature film. (Nadya Kwandibens)

Filmmaker Rueben Martell, director of the supernatural thriller Don't say its name, says he hopes his horror film will help people reflect on the horrific injustices in society.

"It was the idea of trying to make a Native film in any capacity. There were elements of horror in our real lives and this became like a theme," Martell, from Saskatchewan's Waterhen First Nation, told Saskatchewan Weekend.

Martell said listening to news around missing and murdered Indigenous women and Wet'suwet'en protests propelled him to capture the ongoing injustices in his work.

The "eco-thriller," as Martell defines it, explores society's lack of balance with the natural world.

Rueben Martell on location in Alberta while shooting his first feature film. (Chris Large)

Martell, who formerly worked for oil companies, said he wanted to "weigh both sides of the coin" in Saskatchewan in attempts to have "a trauma-informed idea of Native films."

"When you watch something and end up feeling bad about being anything other than Native, I didn't want to make something like that. I wanted to make something that had the balance to which you could agree with both sides," he said.

Rueben Martell has worked in the film industry for years, but this year he's got some new credits to his name; director and co-writer. Host Shauna Powers talks with the director from Saskatchewan's Waterhen First Nation about the supernatural elements that make their way into his horror film, Don't Say Its Name.

The film was shot in Alberta because Saskatchewan had no film tax credit since 2012. Martell said the story is about an environmental protestor.

The idea of the film — meeting someone who was an embodied spirit — came to him in a sweat lodge. 

"The more you take away from the environment, the more you're going to hear back from it, like with B.C., with the environment really fighting back," he said, referring to the recent flooding in the province.

Though Don't say its name is the first feature film by Martell, the Cree filmmaker said he has more in the bag. He said while his film has been gaining positive reviews, the worst review he came across was "the female characters being too strong".

"There's so much strength in women that they're kind of downplayed and it shouldn't be, and it should be recognized," Martell said.

Reuben Martell said the decision to make a horror movie with two female investigators at its centre was informed by his real-life experience of not often seeing women in those roles. (Chaos Productions)

The decision to make a horror movie with two female investigators at its centre was informed by his real-life experience of not often seeing women in those roles.

"Who's healing the community in a literal sense? It's the females. I didn't want to start with a hero. What I did was I took people that I knew in my life and made them into people that were put in situations," he said.

Martell hopes that the audience will learn from the presence of strong female characters and mirror them in their mothers, sisters or aunties.

"There's also one character who's the run of the mill oil guy, who's racist and misogynistic. Up to now, everybody would be saying that they know that person. They see them talking on Facebook constantly talking about anti-vaccine or Native rights," he said.

Don’t say its name is a supernatural eco-thriller directed and co-written by filmmaker Rueben Martell. (Chaos Productions)

Martell said he didn't want to make trauma porn with the film, but instead make a horror film that made people think. 

Growing up at Waterhen First Nation in the 1980s, Martell did not believe Indigenous people could get into the film industry, but saw a poster to learn screenwriting and followed up.

He got started in film at Paved Arts in Saskatoon and has gone on to work in the industry, including on Corner Gas

Don't Say Its Name is available on iTunes, Shaw, GooglePplay, Apple TV and most pay-per-view platforms.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at pratyush.dayal@cbc.ca

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend

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