Tender coming of age story in Innu community premieres at TIFF
'This movie is really about finding your voice and finding your path,' says lead actor
A coming of age story about the relationship between two friends from a small Innu community premiered Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film Kuessipan is about two Innu girls, Mikuan and Shaniss, growing up on a reserve in northeastern Quebec who realize that their lives are going in different directions as they become women and begin making decisions for themselves.
Based on the novel by Innu author Naomi Fontaine, who also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, the film takes viewers into the Innu community through the eyes and poetry of Mikuan.
Fontaine describes Mikuan as an underdog, someone different from the rest of her community because she expresses herself through poetry.
"She reveals the whole community but with words that we don't often hear," said Fontaine.
Fontaine wrote the book when she was 21. Kuessipan in Innu means "your turn" or "to you."
"It was my turn to say something about my community and reaffirm where I'm from, who I am, who was my grandmother and to let them talk about that as well through that book," Fontaine said.
She said while there are no specific names in the book, people from her community will recognize themselves in the story.
The film was shot in part at Sept-Îles and at the Innu community Uashat-Maliotenam. The majority of the actors are performing for the first time and are from the community.
Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatao plays Mikuan; it's her first acting role.
She said the story is about a friendship between two girls with different ambitions.
"Even if sad events happened, there is this small sparkle of hope," she said.
"This movie is really about finding your voice and finding your path even if it means leaving people behind you."
Filmmaker struck by poem
Director Myriam Verreault said she wanted to make a movie about contemporary life on the reserve.
After reading Fontaine's book, Verrault said a poem called The girl with the round belly stuck with her.
"I was really fascinated by those girls who are 17 and have babies and they don't talk about that like a problem or like a question to solve," she said.
"They have kids and we can see that as beautiful as well and that was touching."
In the film, Shaniss has a baby and deals with a partner who isn't supportive and has abusive tendencies while Mikuan pursues an artistic path.
When Mikuan falls in love with a white boy and thinks about leaving the community to go to school, Shaniss begins to feel abandoned by her friend.
Kuessipan has two more public screenings during the festival.