Tina Keeper's feature film 'Through Black Spruce' explores trauma, reconciliation, identity and survival

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Tina Keeper, Don McKellar and Through Black Spruce

Many readers will be familiar with Tina Keeper as the actor who played RCMP officer Michelle Kenedi in the CBC television series North of 60 in the 1990s. Now, she returns to the screen as producer of her first full length feature Through Black Spruce

Keeper and Don McKellar, the film's director, talk to David Peck on today's Face2Face.

"Collaboration and reconciliation. That's what this production was all about. Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers coming together to tell a story that mattered to everyone," says Keeper about Through Black Spruce. It's the project she's been building towards since founding Kistikan Pictures back in 2010. The company is dedicated to the development and production of film and television with Indigenous artists. 

The film is based on the book of the same name by Joseph Boyden. "When I read the novel, I recognized the characters," says the Cree producer and former member of Parliament. "They’re my mother’s people. Joseph captured their spirit and their land in a way I hadn't ever experienced in fiction." And the through line of intergenerational trauma in both the novel and the film cut painfully close to Keeper’s own experience. "My mother was from Treaty Nine Territory, one of the first children in Big Trout Lake to be put on one of those cargo planes. They took her away to residential school at the age of 8. So, I'm only one generation away from that experience, and I know how profoundly it’s affected me." Two generations on, she says, "Lives are still being shattered by it. Our movie speaks to exactly that."

Through Black Spruce was shot on location in Moosonee, Moose Cree First Nation, Sudbury, Atikameksheng Anishinawbek First Nation, Killarney and Toronto, Ontario.  

About the producer: Tina Keeper is Cree, originally from Norway House Cree Nation, now a Winnipeg based media producer. She is President of Kistikan Pictures, a partner company to Buffalo Gal Pictures. Tina was formerly an actor, best known for her work on the hit Canadian series North of 60. Recent productions include Through Black Spruce, the 360-3D VR short film Sky StoriesRoad of Iniquity, the critically acclaimed Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Going Home Star about the Indian Residential School history in Canada, and The REDress REdress Project a short documentary on the issue of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal women in Manitoba. Tina also served as a Member of Parliament for the federal riding of Churchill.

Tina currently serves as Chairperson of the board of trustees for the Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation, member of the advisory Committee to Urban Shaman Gallery, the advisory committee to Red Cross Manitoba, Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and is member of the Order of Manitoba, Canadians for a New Partnership, a recipient of an Aboriginal Achievement Award, a Gemini Award, 3 American Indian Film Festival awards for acting and producing, a 2014 Canadian Civil Liberties Association award for Public Engagement and was named ACTRA's 2017 Women of the Year.

About the director: Don McKellar was born in Canada and has had a varied career as a writer, director and actor. He was the screenwriter of Roadkill and Highway 61, and co-writer of  Dance Me Outside, the Genie Award-winning Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin. He received a Genie Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role in Atom Egoyan's Exotica and the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes for his directorial debut, Last Night, which he also wrote and starred in.

Image Copyright: Serendipity and D Films. Used with permission.

For more information about David Peck’s podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit his site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

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