Every summer, two families camp out on the islands of Haida Gwaii to fish and collect food for the winter. When the charismatic but often careless Adiits’ii (Tyler York) offers to take his best friend Kwa’s young son out on the canoe, Kwa (Willy Russ) vetoes the excursion because he anticipates dangerous weather. Adiits’ii ignores Kwa’s objections and a tragic accident leaves Adiits’ii guilt-stricken and Kwa vengeful.

Sgaaway K’uuna (Edge of the Knife), which is the first feature film in the Haida language, is about forgiveness both of others and oneself. Adiits’ii, presumed dead by everyone else, is so consumed with guilt and despair that he begins to transform into a Gaagiixid, a mythical wildman who is driven by constant hunger and is caught between worlds. Once it becomes clear to the community that Adiits’ii is still alive and very much in need of help, Kwa struggles between his overwhelming drive for revenge and his former best friend’s need for help.

The overall arcs of both main characters are compelling and the main scenes that drive those arcs, especially the ritual that is meant to bring Adiits’ii back, are terrific. Familiar themes feel particularly fresh through the perspective of the Haida culture. As someone like me who is unfamiliar with the culture, the Gaagiixid scenes are a little unclear at first but I could understand what was happening to him on a gut level. The scenes of Adiits’ii transforming do drag a little though and I can imagine a slightly more powerful version of the film that is maybe 15 minutes shorter. Overall, however, Sgaaway K’uuna (Edge of Knife) nails its most important scenes and makes a very specific story feel universal.

Screens:
Sunday, October 21, 7 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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