Strong Characters and Compelling Landscapes Guide Indigenous First Feature Micro-Budgets

With the art of filmmaking growing in Indigenous communities, three of this year’s Talent Fund productions deliver compelling stories from remote settings to the festival circuit.

Taking part in imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, their work is already being celebrated.

The Land of Rock and Gold

For co-writers, directors and producers Janine Windolph and Daniel RedenbachThe Land of Rock and Gold is their first collaborative feature, and imagineNATIVE was its World Premiere. It then premiered in the US at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, followed by the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles  and the Canada Film Market in Hamilton . Returning home to Saskatchewan, there was a special community screening in La Ronge and a Saskatchewan Film Week Special Presentation in Regina. There is interest for both a theatrical and broadcast release in Canada and the US, and more festivals coming up in the new year.


When the Talent Fund kick-started the film, they knew they would shoot in La Ronge, where Janine is from. It’s a unique place – a big fishing and hunting destination and home to about seven different reservations. While it was logistically difficult, Janine and Daniel knew that there was no other way to tell this story. “You can’t recreate that community or the boreal forest. We were really lucky with the winter – never worse than -10!”

Lead performers Charity Bradford and Dimitri McLeod were the perfect fit for the film. Working with non-actors who are real-life mother and son created a sense of authenticity that they couldn’t have gotten otherwise. Devery Jacobs plays a supporting role and truly enjoyed her first time working with co-directors: “With Micro-budgets – everybody’s here because they want to be and because they believe in these projects.”

The Land of Rock and Gold

Having gone through this “gauntlet training ground”, Daniel now feels he is ready for an even bigger film: “It gives you the confidence and integrity to go forward.” As for his continued passion, it comes from the audience’s response: “To have people from this land say I know somebody like this, that they related to the film in that way, means the world to me.”

The Northlander

Writer, Director, Producer of The Northlander, Benjamin Ross Hayden (Manifold Pictures) remains humble in the wake of the success of his first feature. After screening his short, Agophobia, in Cannes, he met and partnered with the Adam Beach Film Institute. With their mentorship and financing through the Talent Fund supported Micro-budget Production Program, Benjamin’s work was green lit and “Indigenous Futurism” was born.


Based on Louis Riel’s journey for identity, The Northlander is a science fiction film that tells the story of a group of people called Last Arc, who are being threatened by a heretic tribe – and the only one who can save them is a hunter named Cygnus (Corey Sevier). Set in a dystopian future, it was this wilderness survival story that fueled his passion. Benjamin explains how “you can explore the ideas of the present by putting them in a future setting… This land that is our home will challenge us.”

Premiering to a full house at the 40th Montreal World Film Festival with front page coverage in the Montreal Gazette, The Northlander also sold out at the imagineNATIVE Film Festival and to enthusiastic audiences in Benjamin’s hometown of Calgary. The film plays at nine festivals this fall with 60 screenings in Alberta alone. Distributed by Raven Banner in Canada and Spotlight Pictures internationally, The Northlander secured a theatrical release across Canada in Landmark Cinemas. The film has already received substantial press attention with coverage on CBC, even trending on Twitter. After it’s theatrical release, The Northlander will air on APTN beginning next May and is being further developed as a Television Mini-Series with the Canada Media Fund. As well, Benjamin’s next feature, The First Encounter, is already in development.

Filming on location in Drumheller and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, the harsh landscapes mirror the challenges faced by the film’s characters. Benjamin is Metis himself, and conveying “a universal topic told in a way that comes from us as Canadians,” it was crucial that the cast include First Nations actors. He wanted icons, and with his “honourable offer” to such talent as Roseanne Supernault, Michelle Thrush and Julian Black Antelope of Blackstone, the story comes to life. “These journeys show us who we are. Although we may not see the end of the universe in our lifetime, with our minds, we can imagine it.”

The Sun at Midnight

The Sun at Midnight, from writer, director, co-producer Kirsten Carthew (Jill and Jackfish Productions), is a coming of age story and a wilderness adventure starring Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs and Duane Howard. After her mother passes away, a teenage girl is sent to live in her mother’s home community at the Arctic Circle. When she runs away, she finds an unlikely friend in a Caribou hunter. Together they must endure the elements to make it home safely.

“BEING ABLE TO SHOOT IN THE NWT – YOU CAN’T FAKE THAT IN A STUDIO!” – Kirsten Carthew, The Sun at Midnight

The World Premiere was held in the filming location of Fort McPherson itself. For Kirsten, the multi-generational event was very successful. “About 150 people attended, all with positive comments… even from the teenage boys!” In honour of the event, she was asked to wear a traditional Gwich’in dress. This is the first time Gwich’in people appear a feature film and emotions were high. “Now more people want to make films in the community. The screening was a way of bringing the film full-circle.”

Receiving financing from the Talent Fund supported Micro-budget Production program allowed Kirsten to cast professional actors. As a first-time feature director, this was extremely important. As Devery Jacobs, explains, “It was me and Duane in the bush.” The success of the film is due in large part to their extraordinary talent. Especially since it was a tough shoot “being on the landscape, being on the Arctic Circle… having a smaller crew than you would normally have.” The first film shot in this region, there were no film support services. Outdoors all the time, they were working at the whim of the weather. For Kirsten it was all about “being able to shoot in the NWT – you can’t fake that in a studio!”


Kirsten grew up in Yellowknife, NWT. She always connects with place and nature and loves stories about the way being in nature can “support wellness and personal growth… I wanted people to see this part of the world. I think it’s so special.” With two sold-out screenings at the Yellowknife Film Festival, followed by two incredible screenings at the Whistler Film Festival where Devery took home the Borsos Award for Best Overall Performance for her role as Lia, there was an “incredible amount of excitement!”says Kirsten.  For Devery Jacobs, “the amount of support has been overwhelming – how excited everybody is, and proud they are to have been a part of this film.”


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