C/O Ricardo Hubbs

The Westdale brings the film adaptation of award-winning book Monkey Beach to Ontario audiences

On Nov. 6, The Westdale will screen the Ontario premiere of Indigenous supernatural mystery film, Monkey Beach. The film is adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson. It follows Lisamarie Hill, a young woman with supernatural abilities from the northern BC community of Kitamaat Village, as she searches for her brother who disappeared at sea.

The film has been many years in the making. The movie’s director, Métis Cree filmmaker Loretta Todd, first heard about the book in the early 2000s, when someone brought to her attention that Eden Robinson’s style of storytelling is similar to her style of filmmaking. Eden, who aims to have all her adaptations handled by Indigenous filmmakers, quickly came on board when Todd approached her about making Monkey Beach into a film.

However, the journey to make the adaptation was long and mentally taxing. Todd spent many years pitching the film, with the support of people such as executive producers Fred Fuchs and Carla Robinson, a journalist who is also Eden’s sister. After many years of pitching, Telefilm Canada funded the film in 2018 along with a few other Indigenous films. Unfortunately, Todd still had to fight to tell the story the way that she wanted to.

“Like even with the storytelling, Loretta did have to fight really hard to get the story told the way she wanted to, in a nonstandard approach. And so, you can’t just edit it the normal way and it’s going to take longer and it’s going to take more resources. So she really did have to fight to get an adequate amount of resources . . . [You] definitely have to fight harder and convince people of the worth of a different kind of storytelling . . . [I]t was a battle in a lot of ways, but definitely, one that I think is worth it,” said Robinson.

[You] definitely have to fight harder and convince people of the worth of a different kind of storytelling . . . [I]t was a battle in a lot of ways, but definitely one that I think is worth it,” said Robinson.

The filmmakers continued to face challenges during filming and postproduction. For a supernatural movie filmed in a remote area, the budget was small. In addition, if they started filming any later, the movie may not have been able to shoot at the location.

C/O Ricardo Hubbs

Towards the end of filming, it was announced that a liquefied natural gas pipeline would start building in the area, leading prices to rise almost overnight. As a result, Robinson described the film as almost a time capsule of what the area was once like.

However, regardless of this, filming in Kitamaat was always a priority for the filmmakers. Robinson noted that about a third of the budget went towards travel, but it was worth the cost because there was nowhere else that could capture the same emotions.

“[I]t’s beautiful up there and it’s unique. It’s hard to get the same hauntingness or the same vastness, the same personality that the land gives . . . You know the animals, the characters, all of the characters have very strong storylines. It’s not just the main characters, it’s like [even] the land has a progression,” said Robinson.

“[I]t’s beautiful up there and it’s unique. It’s hard to get the same hauntingness or the same vastness, the same personality that the land gives . . . You know the animals, the characters, all of the characters have very strong storylines. It’s not just the main characters, it’s like [even] the land has a progression,” said Robinson.

Filming on location fed the supernatural elements of the film. Not only did the land serve as the perfect backdrop but they also felt that the ancestors were helping them with the project. Even though they were filming in autumn, which is normally rainy and cold, they experienced extremely good weather that Robinson credited to the ancestors.

The challenges that the filmmakers’ overcame to make this movie mimics the journey of the main character, Lisamarie Hill. Lisamarie initially feels that no one is listening to her. However, much like the filmmakers who brought her to life, she persisted. The story acknowledges and highlights both the harm of the residential school system on today’s Indigenous peoples, but also demonstrates the resilience of these communities.

This is one of the reasons why the film is so important for Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewers alike. The important and universal themes in the film makes Fuchs, who is also the chair of The Westdale Cinema Group, so excited to bring the film to Hamilton. As many theatres in Ontario are currently closed due to COVID-19, the Westdale is going to be the only theatre in Ontario that screens the film.

“[T]he whole reason we bought [The Westdale] and restored it and it’s a heritage-designated building was for exactly great movies like this. We want to showcase Canadian film, independent film, arthouse film and we want to provide as much diversity in terms of the films we select and be as inclusive as possible for all the different audiences,” explained Fuchs.

On the opening night of the film, singer-songwriter Gail Obediah will provide an introduction. After the premiere, there will be a question and answer session with Fuchs, Robinson and her daughter Leenah Robinson, who also stars in the film. There will be three screenings of the film from Nov. 6 to Nov. 8.

Fuchs thinks students should see the film because they will be able relate to the struggles of Lisamarie as she grows into adulthood. By watching this story, hopefully audiences will be able to tap into emotions that are better explained by art than by words.

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