The sense of sadness within Adam Garnet Jones’ debut film Fire Song is stifling. Teenage suicide within the Northern Ontario community that the film takes places has become as common as the alcoholic haze many of the inhabitants have found themselves in. Furthermore, the limited career opportunities leave little to be desired. While some of the youth have resolved to accept their fate within their town, Shane (Andrew Martin), a gay Anishnaabe teen, is determined to get out at all costs. Set to go to university in Toronto in the fall, Shane’s plans take an unexpected detour when his sister commits suicide. Struggling to support his family in the aftermath, including tending to his depressed mother Jackie (Jennifer Podemeski), and attempting to raise money for school, Shane soon finds the walls of life closing in on him.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Shane must keep his sexuality under wraps for fear of being ostracized by his people. Forced to meet with his boyfriend David (Harely Legrade) in secret, while stringing along his girlfriend, Tara (Mary Galloway), for appearances sake; Shane’s desire for the freedom of the big city intensifies with each passing day. Blinded by his visions of a better future, and filled with guilt over his sister’s passing, Shane’s life begins to spiral out of control. Before long he is making reckless decisions that will have reverberations throughout the entire community.
Offering an intriguing look at the many adversities many homosexual individuals face living within a culture governed by tradition, Fire Song has much to say about the internal tug-of-war that comes with wanting a modern life while still honoring customs. Tackling a plethora of themes including homophobia, suicide, rape, drugs, small town life, and cultural values, there are times when the film feels as if it is biting off more than it can chew. However, Jones’ ensures that the audience is able to identify with the plight of the characters regardless of whether his lens is pointed toward Shane’s increasingly bad judgments, the ramifications that his neglect has on Tara, or the spiritual conflict David wrestles with.
Filled with heartbreaking sorrow, Jones presents a society where suicide and alcohol are often the preferred choices to numb the unbearable pain that often comes with life. Despite this the film still manages to end on a somewhat hopeful note. Fire Song paints a complex portrait of aboriginal youth in search of a brighter future. One where freedom associated with sexuality can exist in harmony with cultural traditions.
Sunday, October 18, 6 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets information can be found at the imagineNATIVE website.