Kings County featured in film with a message
Filmmaker’s North Mountain creates space for two-spirit, Indigenous people
It’s a reverse- western, twospirit thriller directed to discreetly teach viewers a thing or two about Indigenous identities and decolonization.
That may sound like a lot, but that’s what Indigenous filmmaker Bretten Hannam has captured with his film, North Mountain, which explores an intergenerational two-spirit romance between two Mi’kmaq men.
Hannam is used to climbing mountains, having grown up on the titular North Mountain himself, and says he welcomed the challenge of bringing this intricate narrative to his audience.
“I always want to explore gender and sexual identities in terms of Indigenous, pre- contact times, and moving into the future. Sometimes, we’re rediscovering what those elements are,” he says.
Hannam, 34, grew up in Kespukwitk First Nation. He identifies as two-spirit, and says he never saw himself – Indigenous or queer – in any characters on TV shows or movies he watched as a youth.
Then, his high school teacher showed him The Hanging Garden, a queer film by Nova Scotian film maker Thom Fitzgerald.
“I saw, for the first time, part of my experience of who I am reflected in that,” says Hannam.
“The fact that it was made in Nova Scotia was also a surprise, because I thought all films came from Hollywood.”
Now, as a filmmaker, Hannam is hoping his films constructed with queer- centric narratives reach even more people like him, who’ve yet to see themselves reflected on the screen. Even better, he says, when they can reflect Indigenous lives as well.
The characters’ sexualities are never explicitly defined in North Mountain, the film mak- er’s first feature- length film – something Hannam says was entirely on purpose.
“There is no point where someone explains what twospirit is, and no point where someone gets on a soapbox saying, ‘ this is what we think of inter- generational relationships’,” he says.
“The film tells the story through the characters’ actions.”
The film’s setting on North Mountain is another homage for Hannam, who grew up in the middle of its woods.
He spent lots of time exploring the mountain, whether on a bike or with his own two feet, and developed a strong connection to the forest and land.
“The land is as much a character as the actors are in this film. It has to do with the Mi’kmaq people, their relationship with the land – it’s informed the language, the culture, the worldview,” says Hannam.
The film has enjoyed a successful festival run, having won the 2018 Screen Nova Scotia Award for Best Feature Film – something Hannam says was unexpected.
So unexpected, in fact, that he took a bathroom break from the ceremony as the award was announced.
“I thought, well, there’s no way this is winning, so I went to the bathroom. I come back, and next thing I know I’m winning an award,” he laughs.
While it’s still to- be- determined whether it will show on screens in Nova Scotia, Hannam hopes those who see the film walk away feeling inspired to delve deeper into thinking and acting on decolonization, and indigenization.
He fully intends to continue creating space for Indigenous stories of all kinds since these themes are still lacking.
“If I had seen a film like this when I was younger, I’d at least in some capacity feel like I was being seen, and that my stories were being told,” he says.
Wolf and Crane are the two main characters in filmmaker Bretten Hannam’s debut feature film North Mountain. Both characters are Mi’kmaq and identify as two-spirit.
Hannam calls the film a “reverse-western” and hopes its narrative inspires people to think deeper on decolonization and Indigenization.