Beans Leads Available Light Film Festival Winners

Director Tracey Deer (right) directing Kiawentiio (middle) and Violah Beavais (left) on set of Beans.
Photo by Sebastien Raymond.

By Pat Mullen

Tracey Deer’s Beans leads the Made in the North Award winners for this year’s Available Light Film Festival. Beans scored the prize for Best Canadian Feature at the Whitehose-based event, which comes with a cash prize of $5000. The film is Deer’s first dramatic feature as a director after helming several docs and the TV series Mohawk Girls. Beans is a coming-of-age story for a young girl during the 1990 Oka Crisis. Deer draws upon her roots in documentary, intercutting the drama with archival coverage of the event, and creates a personal tale grounded in her experience as a young girl growing up in the Mohawk territory in which the Oka Crisis played out.

“The Oka crisis provides the backdrop to a tumultuous story told through the eyes of a young girl conflicted by mixed messages about how to react to the event,” noted the ALFF jury in its statement. “Her triumph comes through finding her own path to adulthood. The story is well acted and filmed at a pace that matches the almost staccato level of events as they unfolded in actuality.” Beans previously scored a runner-up prize for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival behind Oscar-frontrunner Nomadland and Regina King’s One Night in Miami, and won Best Canadian Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival before landing a spot on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten. Its next stop is the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.

“The Available Light Film Festival is over the moon to be shining an even brighter spotlight on diverse filmmakers, especially those in the North,” said festival director, Andrew Connors, in a statement from ALFF. “Since its founding in 2003, ALFF has been committed to programming films by diverse filmmakers and supporting these filmmakers in telling their stories and sharing them with audiences across Yukon and Canada. Northern diverse filmmakers have further challenges due to the remoteness and great distances from services, mentorship, access to decision-makers and skilled collaborators needed to create films and media art. With this partnership, Canada Goose will help us in our mission to build up these filmmakers and help them bring their stories from their communities to the world.”

An honourable mention in the Best Canadian Feature Film category went to No Visible Trauma, directed by Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal. The doc is a provocative exposé on police brutality within the ranks of the Calgary police. Of No Visible Trauma, the jury remarked, “The film skillfully analyzes events that build to a dismal and stunning portrait of the misuse of authority.” The film also screens at the upcoming Kingston Canadian Film Festival.

Also on the doc front, Tiffany Hsiung’s Sing Me a Lullaby continued its winning streak on the festival circuit with a win for Best Canadian Short Film. The film, which recounts Hsiung’s journey to find her mother’s birth mother in Taiwan, previous won honours at TIFF, DOC NYC, and the Directors Guild of Canada Awards. The jury called Sing Me a Lullaby a “heartfelt search for roots that avoids overt sentimentality to create an artfully built narrative of loss and discovery” and said Hsiung’s film “speaks not only to the fractures that a mixed cultural identity can create but also the indelible bonds that assuage those fractures.” The win for Best Canadian Short Film brings a purse of $2500.

Finally, the award for Best Northern Short Film went to K’I Tah Amongst the Birch, directed by Melaw Nakehk’o. The category honours the best short from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut and has a cash prize of $2500. The film is a short doc that was part of the NFB’s COVID-19 project The Curve and observes Nakehk’o’s family living off the land and reconnecting with bush life as a silver lining of the pandemic. “The film quietly speaks of the rhythm of everyday family events that are rendered both ordinary and profound through its straightforward approach,” noted the jury.

The 19th annual ALFF continues through Feb. 22 with over 30 features in its line-up in addition to over 40 shorts by Indigenous filmmakers and circumpolar filmmakers. Many of the films are available to stream nationwide. ALFF will announce the winner of the annual audience award at the close of the festival.