By Rick Littlechild
Based on a true story, Luna an Orca whale arrived in the Nootka Sound area in 2001 after being separated from his pod in the Juan de Fuca Straight. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation who live near Gold River adopted the whale believing that the spirit of their former chief who had prophesized before his death that he would return as a kakawin (orca whale). Luna appeared a few days after the chief’s death fulfilling the prophesy and the traditional belief that the ancestors could join with animals.
The drama that unfold within the Native community when the chief’s son Mike Maquinna returns home to attend his father’s funeral and Luna arrives in the village harbour is the main premise of the movie. Mike’s separation from his band and their traditions has made him question the validity of their beliefs. He is a hereditary chief and must take on the mantle of leadership now that his father is dead. Mike feels he is ill suited for the position since his spiritual base seems at odds with the traditions of his own people.
Life sometimes motivates the right decision in crucial situations. When the Government announces its plans to return Luna to his Pod, Mike who is slowly convinced by his mother that Luna truly embodies his father’s spirit and was sent to be his son’s spiritual guide, decides to take up the fight against the government to keep the whale in Nootka Sound. His decision not only renews his faith in his own traditions but spurs a spiritual revival that gives him the strength to unite his community in a David and Goliath battle against government bureaucracy.
Adam Beach plays the troubled Mike Maquinna was touched by the story, ‘’I heard of the whale out on the West Coast, but that was it, then I signed on and I learned a lot more about the whale and the people he affected. It really woke up the younger generation there and got them to look at their traditions, because of Luna they are learning and reconnecting with traditions, grassroots stuff. It was awesome to see; I saw it every day we were there.’’
The movie has a stellar cast, Graham Greene gives a wizened performance as Bill Louis the elder who is more deserving of the chief’s role than the young Maquinna. The mother of the young chief played by Tantoo Cardinal is nothing less than spellbinding. Jason Priestly in an uncharacteristic bad guy role as Ted Jefferies the self righteous government official, portrays with great accuracy the petty autocratic attitude many government administrators still have towards Native people. There is no shortage of talent in LUNA: SPIRIT OF THE WHALE and Adam Beach demonstrates again why his star keeps rising in the uncertain world of cinema.
The pride of the Dog Creek band situated just north of Winnipeg, Adam went back to his reserve last year to run for chief, he failed to get elected but he promised he would try again. A surprising move considering how is career has flourished in the last five years, how he would fit in the time to be chief when he is the hardest working native actor alive.
Adam appeared in North of 60 early in his career and became more familiar with TV audiences as a regular in The Rez. His film credits include Dance Me Outside and the acclaimed Smoke Signals but his breakthrough performance came in
WINDTALKERS with Nicolas Cage in 2002. Adam has caught the attention of Hollywood directors including Clint Eastwood who cast him as Ira Hayes in Flags Of Our Fathers. ‘’ You only get one take with Clint, so it’s got to be a good one.’’