Joe Buffalo offers a compelling and deeply moving perspective about the lingering trauma of residential schools. The film shares the experience of actor Joe Buffalo (Luk’Luk’I, Hello Destroyer) as he reflects upon his youth in which he, like generations of Indigenous people in Canada, was subjected to a pervasively violent system that stripped children of their cultural identity, language, and sense of self. Buffalo’s account in the doc, which premiered today on The New Yorker, is tough. But it’s also a story of strength and resilience.
Buffalo shares his story in voiceover while director Amar Chebib focuses not on the trauma, but on strength as the visuals convey how skateboarding afforded an outlet for the actor’s pain. Joe Buffalo is a timely film that adds to the growing reckoning with this dark chapter of Canada’s past. It is a poetic study of finding an outlet for one’s pain as Buffalo frankly reflects upon how he could have easily veered off tracks by falling into the coping mechanisms that so many others do while wrestling with the long-lasting aftershocks of such an experience. The film gives voice to the children who suffered, but it also testifies to the spirit of a people who withstood the fire. It’s an excellent character study told with nuance and grace.
Watch Joe Buffalo today from The New Yorker. It screens in Toronto at Planet in Focus next week.