Wildhood is showing at BFI Flare on Thursday 24th March and Friday 25th March. Wildhood arrives in UK cinemas later this year.
Based on his 2019 short film Wildfire, director Bretten Hannam takes his original twelve-minute story of a Mi’kmaw runaway and transforms it into a visually stunning feature-length exploration of adolescent love, cultural belonging, discovery and escape. It would be easy to simply label Wildhood as a classic coming of age road trip movie. However, Hannam’s film transcends the boundaries of the road trip coming of age drama by weaving in a rich tapestry of themes, from reclaimed cultural identities to intersectionality and family breakdown as a young man escapes his violent and brutal family home with his younger brother in tow.
Link (Phillip Lewitski) is a two-spirit young man living a life of poverty with his younger brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) in a family home where physical abuse, alcoholism and crime go hand in hand. But when Link discovers his father (Joel Thomas Hynes) has been hiding the truth about his absent mother, whom he claimed was dead, Link escapes his oppressive home life with his young brother in tow. His mission is simple; find his mum and reconnect with his Mi’kmaw heritage.
READ MORE: THE OUTLAWS
However, as they embark on their journey with no money to their name, Link and Travis quickly realise their journey will be far more complex than they initially thought, with only a birthday card and incomplete address to guide their way. As they navigate Nova Scotia with hope quickly running out, they meet Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), a young Mi’kmaw drifter and dancer who offers to help. But Pasmay also offers Link a bond of love, companionship and care he has never experienced on a road trip of discovery, love and reclaimed identity.
Through his two lead characters, Hannam explores differing experiences of acceptance, oppression and cultural belonging. For Link, his sexual orientation is never hidden, but his ability to live and love freely is wrapped in the trauma of his upbringing and the violence he has suffered. Here his sexual orientation, cultural identity and ability to grow and flourish are held hostage by a home life where violence is the norm. He has been forced to grow up quickly and take responsibility for his brother out of necessity, his cultural heritage denied by a father who controlled the door into the Mi’kmaw world of his birth. As a result, Link feels like a ghost in his own world, lacking a tether of hope, belonging and safety.
READ MORE: JUMP, DARLING
Meanwhile, Pasmay has the strong sense of cultural belonging Link desires but is equally alienated due to his sexual orientation. Pasmay longs for acceptance, love and belonging within the culture and community he calls home. Here Link and Pasmy are two sides of the same coin, both unlocking doors for the other that have remained closed and barred. For Pasmay, Link is the love he has been denied and the healing he needs as a fellow Mi’kmaw stands by his side in defiance of community homophobia. While at the same time, for Link, Pasmay is the door to community inclusion, security and cultural belonging. Here, Wildhood offers us something unique, fresh and beautiful in a tried and tested sub-genre.
Unlike many other similar films, the characters Hannam creates are full-bodied, complex and rich in intersectional discussions on the nature of cultural identity, belonging and sexual orientation. Key to these discussions are the outstanding performances of Lewitski, Winters-Anthony and Odjick, each offering a level of authenticity and realism rarely found in similar pictures. Here they manage to portray the complexity of their characters’ emotions through a single look, gesture or touch in a movie that places Canada’s colonial history and the oppression of its first nation people centre stage.
READ MORE: A NIGHT IN THE FIELDS
Hannam’s direction avoids the potential pitfalls of transforming a short film into a feature-length movie by keeping the pace sharp and focused, despite regular moments of silence and reflection. However, its the cinematography of Guy Godfree that truly elevates Wildhood into the realms of cinematic perfection. Godfree dovetails the vast freedom of Canada’s majestic landscapes with the urban decay of poverty, discrimination and limited opportunity. Here Godfree uses light and exquisitely detailed close-ups to chart the emotional journey of all three boys, his camera picking up the smallest of details as freedom, oppression, hope, and love collide on the road to rebirth. The result is a stunning yet delicate journey into cultural belonging, first love and acceptance that shines from its opening scenes to its last.
Hannam’s direction avoids the potential pitfalls of transforming a short film into a feature-length movie by keeping the pace sharp and focused, despite regular moments of silence and reflection. However, its the cinematography of Guy Godfree that truly elevates Wildhood into the realms of cinematic perfection.