Rosie

TIFF22 Film Review and Interview

By Linda Dawn Hammond

“Rosie” is the first feature film of Métis director and writer, Gail Maurice, who is also known as an actor in the TV series, “Trickster”. She self identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is one of a small number of less than 2000 people who can still speak Michif, a now endangered language which was spoken by the Metis people of Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a primarily a combination of French nouns and Cree verbs, and originated in the 1800s from contact between Francophone traders and Cree and Ojibwe First Nations people. The descendants of these French and First Nations unions became known as Métis.  

“Rosie” appears on the surface to be a simple, joyous film about an engaging trio of social misfits who, with the help of an orphan child, find emotional support and resolution in a chosen family of their own creation. Its underlying messages are far more complex and will speak to those aware of the terrible legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools and the “Sixties Scoop,” which adversely affected the lives of thousands of indigenous people and their descendants. 

It is set in 1980s Montréal, which in “Rosie” is a world categorized by poverty and insecurity for those who don’t conform to society’s standards and norms. The character of “Fred”, (Mélanie Bray) is lovingly portrayed as a somewhat irresponsible Francophone artist who lives a precarious existence on the constant edge of poverty, eviction and unemployment. Her best friends are Flo (Constant Bernard) and Mo (Alex Trahan), who are flamboyant and decidedly non-gender conforming. Their alternative lifestyles are suddenly disrupted by the initially unwelcome arrival of a homeless six year old girl, Rosie (Keris Hope Hill). Through her enthusiastic, sweet presence, she teaches the adults about responsibility but also to live their dreams. At the time of shooting Keris had never acted before, but she is charming and effective in the part. The Kanien’kehá:ka girl from the Six Nations of the Grand River plays the role of an indigenous child left orphaned after the death of her mother. (It is perplexing that she was not included in Tiff’s roster of 2022 Rising Stars, but she was mentioned in CBC’s recent list of young, talented stars.)  

In the film, “Rosie”, social services search for a blood relative to take custody of Rosie, an orphaned English speaking girl in Montreal. All they can uncover is a “sister” of the deceased mother, a Francophone woman who had been once been placed in the same adoptive home. They have no records of the whereabouts of any genetic relatives due to the willful incompetence of officials during the “Sixties Scoop”, when tens of thousands of children, primarily indigenous, were forcibly removed from their families and placed in predominantly white foster homes. These stolen children were not encouraged to remain in contact with their families or know of their heritage. In many cases they were intentionally sent far away to achieve this separation. 

It is a story close to the heart of the director on many levels. Maurice  experienced a similar painful disruption in her own family. Whereas she as the eldest child was fortunate to be taken in and raised by her Métis grandmother, who taught her Michif and the ways of their people, a younger brother and sister were removed in the “Sixties Scoop” and disappeared.  It is only recently that the whereabouts of Gail’s brother was discovered. 

In Quebec, language is always part of the conversation, but in Montréal in particular, bilingualism has been an important factor in breaching any linguistic or cultural divides. The little orphaned girl in the story is indigenous and anglophone, and although she finds herself in a world which is French speaking and white,  there are no divides as people choose to learn from each other, and even introduce a third language, Cree. 

Interview

I sat down with Rosie’s director, Gail Maurice, and her partner, actor Mélanie Bray, to discuss the film.


GM (Gail Maurice):

I was asked about the ‘80s,  how there was so much violence against gay culture, queer culture. So they asked my perspective, because “Rosie” is not really (violent), I mean, there’s a couple moments in the film that showed or insinuated it. But it’s not about that, even though a couple of broadcasters told me they wanted me to add that element, the violence towards the gay people, towards Flo. And Mo and I tried to do that, and it just went to a dark place.  And I thought to myself, that’s not the story I want to tell. That’s not my experience in the ‘80s, of being gay.  What my experience was, basically, was what “Rosie” is, and it was a time of where I was finding out about being gay and gay culture, and it was also new and wild and beautiful. And,  just extravagant, you know. And so, that’s why I wrote a story from Rosie’s perspective,  because she is able to see the world with that wide eyed wonder. And that’s exactly how I was when I came out, and that’s the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell a story of chosen family, of love, belonging, being it wasn’t a story about, gay culture, per se. What I’d like to say is, it’s an indigenous story with an indigenous perspective, told through the eyes of a little indigenous girl who happens to be part of this scene, and during a period of time (the 80s) that is really important to me, that was, coming out. So that’s the story I wanted to tell.  I came out I was 18. My first year university, t was a magical time in Saskatoon, in a little bar called Numbers.

LDH (Linda Dawn Hammond)

Can you talk about how the “60s scoop” affected you personally?

GM:

I was able to find my brother. Part of the effect of the “60s scoop” is loss of culture and identity. So when I found him,  I did a little short (film) called, “Little Indians. “  We’re not close. I’ve seen him maybe three times, and in a very different environment.  He grew up in the white home, with a white family and on a farm. He said he played baseball with the little Indians. You know, so he took himself out and didn’t see himself as an Indian. I know he knows he’s Metis. It’s hard. It’s a loss, and I have a sister out there somewhere… 

LDH:

You were able to live with your grandma, and there you learned a language that’s so rare. Michif.

GM:

 Michif. And yeah, I wrote a trilingual film, because I wanted to be able to talk about my language as well. Not a lot of people know about that language, which is a mixture of Cree and French. I was teasing Melanie, I said, “My French is the original French. Because, you know, it’s part of the Couriers de Bois and the French fur traders. So my French is actually from that era. So we still have all that French in my language, whereas Melanie’s,  it’s now modern, right? 


LDH:

French people in France say that yours (Melanie’s) is actually the original French.  Quebec French is considered to be what the language was like before it transformed over in France and became modern. 

You mentioned “Rosie” is a trilingual film.

Is it Michif you’re teaching them, the (indigenous) language in the class scene. Is that where it came in?


GM:

Yeah, so my language is pretty (much) French. So sometimes there’s three. Our numbers are crazy, and household things are French- dirt and colds are French. So the numbers were all created.  I wanted to tell a story about chosen family, to monitor those children that were taken away- it’s part of the 60s Scoop, and the effects of that. Some of them will never know who they are, or where their family’s from, or who their blood relatives are.  I wanted to tell a story, to honour them, because they’re doing the best that they can in the world. And just to say, that they’re strong, and they’re survivors, and I admire and honour them. So that’s why I wanted to tell “Rosie” as well, but also, it’s a story about beauty in trash. So metaphoric faith, there’s a lot of people that think that others are less than them, for example, Jigger (the character of a homeless Cree man, played by actor Brandon Oakes), who’s my favourite character, but he’s the one that’s most grounded to me. He’s the one that has his culture, and his language, and he’s the one that tells Rosie, and shares the culture with Rosie. So he is, actually, the strongest character.  

That’s the whole tragedy of it, always. There’s people in Europe that don’t even realize where they’re from. There’s a film out there which (Dr.) Tasha Hubbard did.  She’s Cree from the prairies. She did a documentary on family, the family that found each other.  For years and years apart, and they were all over the world. (“Birth of a Family”, 2017, NFB) 

LDH:

What acting role did you play in “Bones of Crows” ?


GM:

It’s about residential school, and it takes place over 100 years, following a woman and matriarch. I played the Matriarch’s daughter.

There’s so many people in Canada that don’t know about my culture or the atrocities that happened. Two years ago, social workers went into a hospital and took a baby right out of a woman’s arms… it was based on lies, but the power the government has, the power that the social workers and doctors have, is unbelievable… I can’t imagine them doing that to a person that’s non Indigenous. It’s unfathomable that doctors and the government could get away with that, but they do get away with it with indigenous people. “Rosie” is a story with a lot of heavy topics, but in the next moment, you can be laughing, because the way I grew up,  if we just soaked in all the hurt and all the pain and all the atrocities, how life is so difficult, if we did that,  it would be bleak, and there would be no tomorrow, but the way I grew up,  we actually can laugh even though the hardship of life, even though our world is breaking and falling apart. We can still laugh because laughter is, like they say, medicine, and it is medicine because it allows you to be able to lift up your head and carry on. And when you laugh, you’re telling the world, you know,  I can carry on,  I can do this, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to triumph and that’s why there’s like moments where, you know, characters are crying, and then the next moment they’re laughing. Yeah!

End

The World Premiere of the Canadian Indie film, “Rosie”, was featured in the Discovery program at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) on September 9, 2022. It was also selected as the closing film at Toronto’s ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts festival in October, 2022. 

The ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto is presently hosting, until March 19, 2022, an important exhibition entitled, “Being Legendary.”It features original paintings by the brilliant Cree artist, Kent Monkman, aka “Miss Chief”, who curated the exhibit.  It includes cultural artifacts from the ROM’s collections, but from an indigenous perspective. The exhibit illustrates indigenous knowledge and challenges the past, colonial interpretation of history. As one enters the final room, there is a room of 11 portraits entitled, “Shining Stars”, illustrating indigenous women and men, who in their present state of being are beacons of the future. Among them, a portrait of Gail Maurice, where she is honoured by Monkman as a, “Filmmaker. Writer. Actor. Michif and nêhiyawêwin first languages speaker! “ 

A fitting tribute, which coincides with the years 2022 until 2032 being designated the UN’s * “International Decade of Indigenous Languages“

The United Nations General Assembly (Resolution A/RES/74/135) proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032), to draw global attention on the critical situation of many indigenous languages and to mobilize stakeholders and resources for their preservation, revitalization and promotion.

The International Decade aims at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, and mainstreaming linguistic diversity and multilingualism aspects into the sustainable development efforts. It offers a unique opportunity to collaborate in the areas of policy development and stimulate a global dialogue in a true spirit of multi-stakeholder engagement, and to take necessary (STEPS?!!! Appears to be missing a word!) for the usage, preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages around the world. 

https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/indigenous-languages.html

Edited by Georgina Bencsik

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Recent Photography Work: Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawnone/

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