The Lesser Blessed tells universal story of alienation

The Lesser Blessed, a story of teenage angst and seclusion told from the perspective of one young First Nations man, was the closing gala at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

N.W.T.-set film focuses on experiences of First Nations teen

The Lesser Blessed follows a Tichlot teen who feels like an outsider. (ImagineNATIVE)

The Lesser Blessed, a story of teenage angst and seclusion told from the perspective of one young First Nations man, was the closing gala at the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

The film combines a universal story about feeling like an outsider with the unique tale of a young man who has to overcome much hardship in his young life.

Based on the novel of the same name by Dene author Richard Van Camp, the story is set in the Northwest Territories  and follows a Tlicho teenager, Larry Sole, through some of his high school experiences.

Lisa Charleyboy is Tsilhqot’in from the interior of British Columbia. Currently living in Toronto, she's a freelance writer who has written for Indian Country Today, THIS Magazine, and MSN Canada. Sharply savvy in the ways of social media, her blog Urban Native Girl presents pop culture with an indigenous twist. Follow her ImagineNATIVE Festival coverage on CBCNews.ca/arts.

The Lesser Blessed is written and directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Anita Doron and has a mostly Canadian cast including Chloe Rose (Degrassi), Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga), Benjamin Bratt, Tamara Podemski as Verna Sole and Joel Evans as Larry Sole.

The film was shot in Sudbury, in part because of the lack of government incentives for movie-making in the Northwest Territories.  But it still manages to cinematically capture the feelings of social, cultural and geographical isolation of the original novel.

"I feel like Anita totally captured that —what it’s like to be in the middle of nowhere, so far away from everybody — that it’s both in a geographic sense and in the social sense of being an outsider," says Tamara Podemski who plays Larry Sole's mother.

"He was a boy who couldn’t be more different. But he’s not so different because he’s Indian, he’s different because he’s traumatized, and that’s the beautiful part about the story."

ImagineNATIVE winners

  • Best dramatic feature: Charlie Zone, produced by Hank White.
  • Best indigenous language film: Throat Song, Stacey Aglok MacDonald.
  • Best documentary: My Louisiana Love, Monique Verdin.
  • Best short documentary: Songline to Happiness, directed by Danny Teece-Johnson.
  • Best short drama: Throat Song, Stacey Aglok MacDonald.
  • Best new media: Sense of Home, Leena Minifie.
  • Emerging talent: Scar, directed by Tiffany Parker.
  • NFB/imagineNATIVE Digital Media Partnership: In the Similkameen, Tyler Hagan

Podemski has had to face her own challenges as a native actor.

"I’ve never only been put out for native roles, but I only get cast in native roles. I can’t say that it’s been a bad thing," she says.

"I’ve often been told ‘It’s so interesting that you have only done native roles, or have chosen to do native roles.’ And they don’t understand that it’s not a choice. We (native actors) are told where we can be seen, how we can be seen, and who we can be seen with on the screen."

"It takes courageous producers filmmakers, writers, to fight for their stories to be told," says Podemski.

It seemed to be a great feat to get this indie film made – taking seven years from the time it was a figment of the imagination of director and screenwriter Doron. Van Camp, the novel’s author, worked with Doron from the beginning, even opening up his home to her so she could capture the feel of the N.W.T. 

The Lesser Blessed is most certainly a First Nations story about a young man’s struggle for identity and healing, but it’s also a story that is universally felt. And that is what makes this film beautiful, that we can all relate no matter what colour of skin we have.