Indigenous filmmaking team to make screen adaptation of Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster
Award-winning filmmaker Michelle Latimer to lead adaptation of acclaimed novel
The frustration filmmaker Michelle Latimer felt over how Indigenous filmmakers are often outgunned by bigger production houses when it comes to obtaining the rights to successful novels by Indigenous writers led to her latest project: adapting Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster for the screen.
"We can't afford these rights in our own community," said Latimer, an Algonquin-Métis filmmaker who recently received a Canadian Screen Award for the Viceland documentary series Rise.
She shared these feelings with colleague Jennifer Kawaja, co-owner of Sienna Films, over dinner at a Toronto restaurant.
"I said to Jennifer, it's just such a shame.... We don't have that many books within our community that become best sellers and then we have them and they are never bought by Indigenous people. They are often bid out and we don't have the ownership."
Latimer had one book on her mind at the time: Robinson's Son of a Trickster. She had read the novel during a three-day Thanksgiving holiday trip to her parents' home in Thunder Bay last year.
"I read it at the same time I was up north to take part in ceremony to scatter my grandma's ashes," said Latimer.
Novel like 'medicine'
The novel affected Latimer deeply and she started to inquire about obtaining rights, but was told some big players were already in the game.
Then came the dinner with Kawaja and Latimer's lament over losing ownership of Indigenous stories.
Kawaja told Latimer she'd be willing to go 50-50 with her on getting the rights to the book and adapting it for the screen.
"Eden Robinson's book came up and she said it might be available and I said OK and we looked into it ... and we put in an offer," said Kawaja.
"We had the privilege of having our offer accepted."
The deal was announced in early March.
Under the arrangement, Sienna is partnering with Latimer's Streel Films to produce a series based on Son of a Trickster and the upcoming sequel, Trickster Drift, which is due out in October.
Sienna and Streel have also bought the rights to the third book in the trilogy, Return of the Trickster.
Sienna would take lead on the non-writing part of the production, like negotiating the rights, while Streel would take the lead on the writing and production of the novel for the screen.
The creative team also includes a star-studded lineup of Indigenous writers, directors and producers including Jesse Wente, Marie Clements, Adam Garnet Jones and Danis Goulet.
In her pitch letter to Robinson, Latimer described the book as "medicine" she "needed badly." At the time, Latimer wrote that she was still feeling "raw and tired" from her work on the Rise documentary program which took her to the conflict at Standing Rock and the tear gas and pepper spray-laced battle to stop construction of an oil pipeline.
Author confident with adaptation
Latimer wrote that the novel invited her "into a world of creatures, dreamers, shifters healers and guides." The journey of the novel's main character, a young man named Jared, "reminded me of where I come from and also where I had just been," she wrote.
"Michelle's letter was amazing," said Eden Robinson.
"Everything she said resonated with me."
Robinson said she has no qualms about putting her writing into the reimagining hands of Latimer and her team.
The Haisla-Heiltsuk writer said just watching Latimer's body of work and listening to her ideas about how it could be developed gave her confidence.
"Especially in her ideas of talking with the communities, choosing the cast, choosing the talent. I'm just very excited about her ideas," said Robinson.
Robinson said she is also pleased that the story will be filmed in and around Kitimat, B.C., where Son of a Trickster is based.
"A lot of the locations in northern B.C. are used in movies and television series as stand-ins," she said.
"But to have it set where it was written, I know that there are a lot of people who are just very eager to work in film and TV in their own community."
While the project is still in its early stages, some broadcasters have already come around sniffing about rights to the series.
"The thing I want to preserve is the tone of the book," said Latimer. "It is really important for me to have a broadcaster that is willing to air this type of content."
While there are whimsical scenes of talking and dancing fireflies and wandering ape-men in Son of a Trickster, there are also harsher moments and raw language like when a man is nail-gunned to the floor and when otter-like creatures bite off Jared's toe as they try to eat him.
If television networks balk, there is always Netflix and Hulu, she said.
Robinson won the $50,000 Writer's Trust of Canada Fellowship and Son of a Trickster was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.