By Charles Bossy
Ryerson film graduate Adam Garnet Jones’ first feature film Fire Song premiered last Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and is one of the first films directed by a First Nations director.
Fire Song is the story of a closeted Anishinaabe teenager, who, in the fallout of his sister’s suicide, deals with the challenges that arise; specifically supporting his mother or moving on to the outside world.
For the 33-year old, who graduated from Ryerson in 2006, making the film was an emotional time. The film’s subject matter of suicide resonated with him—it had been something Jones had struggled with in his youth.
“[The film] was in some way inspired by my time as a teenager, struggling with my own thoughts of suicide,” Jones said.
He said that the cast members were also hit hard by the production of the film.
“Even though it was really difficult for me, I think for the people who were around me working on the film—it was even harder,” Jones said. “In particular, because the content was so close for them as well.”
Actress Ma-Nee Chacaby agrees. Chacaby first met Jones at a get-together in Thunder Bay. Jones asked her to audition for Fire Song—her first film. Chacaby, who plays Evie, a homophobic and religious woman, says the themes of Fire Song hit close to home.
“Fire Song is real,” Chacaby said. “I see this in Thunder Bay. This film is going to seem real for First Nations people.”
For Jones the film doesn’t answer a lot of questions that viewers might have, but does start an important conversation for Aboriginal and queer people.
“The film is a good way to start talking about issues around sexuality and youth suicide…particularly in reserves,” Jones said. “I don’t think the film gives a lot of answers, except for, that it is important for people to open and come together and support one and other.”
Sadly, for Jones and for most Aboriginal and Canadian filmmakers, Fire Song won’t get nearly the amount of exposure as it should. A combination of no celebrity attachment and a lack of funding means movies like Fire Song slip under the radar.
But Jones plans to tour Fire Song around Aboriginal reserves that wouldn’t usually have access to any movies at all.
“I think it’s important that people in the community see this story, and a lot of people can use it as a springboard to talk about what’s going on,” Jones said. “The film has the ability to have the greatest impact in the Aboriginal community and within the queer community.”
Originally wanting to be an actor, Jones decided to attend the Gulf Islands Film & Television School after his drama teacher told him he was too feminine to be an actor. At 14, his first short film made rounds in the Canadian film festival circuit and his film Cloudbreaker made its TIFF debut in 2006.
“My experience was just night and day from trying to be an actor,” Jones said. “So much power, so much control to say what I really wanted to.”
For Jones, Fire Song is not like other films about First Nations.
“The general perceptions of stories like this is, [Aboriginals] are really tough and really sad,” Jones said. “I want people to walk away from Fire Song with the thought that Aboriginal people are incredibly strong and incredibly resilient.”
The movie is playing at the Scotiabank Theatre for the rest of TIFF. With any luck it’ll have a wider release sometime soon.