A Mi’kmaq coming-of-age story
Wildhood–a TIFF 2021 debut from writer/director Bretten Hannam–opens with the half-Mi’kmaw teenager Lincoln (Phillip Lewitski) dying his hair blonde. In this simple act, Link is trying to remove himself from his mother’s Mi’kmaq roots. But he is also defying his abusive father, whose response to the color-change (“You want everybody to think you’re a fruit, huh?”) is telling of his attitude toward Link’s queer identity.
It’s clear that Link is okay distancing himself from this familial dichotomy because he doesn’t feel he belongs to anyone. His mother is dead, and he knows next to nothing about her culture. His father has little love and care to offer. But when the teen discovers his mother is in fact alive, a glimmer of the future’s possibility–of somewhere to belong–sparks in Link’s mind.
With his younger half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) in tow, Link now embarks on a journey to track down his mother. And with help from fellow Two-Spirit Mi’kmaw Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), the queer indigenous teen further taps into his sexuality and his Mi’kmaq roots along the way.
The following exploration of Link’s identity is deeply intimate and tender. Hannam, a Two-Spirit, nonbinary Mi’kmaw, utilizes a familiar framework to tell their story–but provides space to explore several themes (sexuality, self-discovery, belonging) in unique ways, and often through small acts interspersed throughout the film.
There’s a tenderness, too, to Guy Godfree’s cinematography when focusing in on these acts–such as laying a porcupine to rest in the Mi’kmaq tradition–that highlights the sacredness to the journey.
“You don’t know how lucky you are that you got someone chasing after you,” Pasmay says to Link in the middle of their trip. “That you got somewhere you’re going.” Much of Wildhood’s charm lies in the fact that the viewer is going somewhere meaningful with Link, Pasmay, and Travis. And, while you won’t be sure if Link will discover what he’s searching for, you will desperately cheer for him to find it–but mostly for him to realize what he’s gained along the way.
After a successful premiere at TIFF 2021, Wildhood hopefully will reach the wider audience it deserves, now that the film is streaming on Hulu. A heartfelt story about the intersection of queer and indigenous identity, this coming-of-age film makes Hannam a director to watch.
Verdict - 9/10