MAÏNA, a Union Pictures film produced by Canadian director Michele Poulette, has been creating quite the buzz with award winning accolades during its screening at festivals, including a world premiere at the Shanghai film festival.
The movie takes place prior to European contact and is about how two cultures meet: the Inuit and the Innu. The story follows a young Innu woman, Maina, portrayed by actress Roseanne Supernault, who sets out to rescue her young friend Nipka who has been captured by Inuit hunters. The Inuit hunters at first set out for a peaceful meeting with the Innu, but the meeting turns into a confrontation after one of the Innu tribe members becomes jealous over an Inuit hunter having eyes for Maina, whom the Innu man is hoping will be his wife. The Inuit hunters decide to capture the young boy (Nipka) as their hostage. Maina made a promise to Nipka’s dying mother that she will take care of her son and take him as her own son. Maina sets out to rescue little Nipka, and in the process becomes a hostage herself of the Inuit Hunters and in a strange twist of fate, falls in love. It is a raw look at the Inuit and Innu cultures and reveals the fear and the misconception those cultures have for one another. In the film, the Inuit believe that when the Innu have nothing to eat during the winter, they eat their children, but they soon find out they’re not very different from each other.
Poulette, says that he was introduced to MAÏNA by one of his colleagues and became obsessed for about two years trying to make this story into a movie. “Let’s make it clear: I always loved ‘popular movies,’ in the noble sense of it. I mean films where the storytelling is, so good that you keep the audience’s attention all the way through, and at the end, the audience falls for the character, keeps thinking about them during the weeks and then months later,” said Poulette. “So I had been introduced to MAÏNA by a producer friend who wanted to produce it. But the project didn’t fly for a while. And I realized I was already in love with this project and these characters. So I took an option and decided to start producing it (this is why I am also Executive producer). To do so, I involved the two groups.”
For the first time in Canadian film history, two Aboriginal communities, Innu First Nation from Mingan, Quebec and the Kuujjuaq Inuit people, financed this movie, which also premiered in both places. “These two chiefs, Chief Piétacho from Mingan and Leader Pita Aatami from Kuujjuaq, decided to do it because of their youth,” said Poulette. “They were witnessing their language and culture disappearing and wanted to do something about it.” Chief Piétacho said, “For the first time on the big screen, our population is looking at herself, speaking our own language.” Inuit Leader Pita Attami wanted to open his population to the world, and this movie was a great occasion to do so.
Poulette says that both communities are very happy with the results. “Best example happened after the Première in Kuujjuaq: three girls told us that they had been moved by what they saw. Seeing themselves on the screen was a real gift for them and a reason to be proud.” Poulette says that this is a part of their own story that only few persons know because most of the time the story is told from a European’s view. “We hired anthropologists, invited other peoples to listen to their comments, had cultural advisers on board; we had language coaches on set. Then we found the best location: Mingan Islands. I wanted to oppose the beauty of the nature on the ‘south part’ and oppose it to the icy desert of the north.”
Poulette’s decision to pick Roseanne Supernault for the lead role of Maina was the best choice he could have made. “It was pretty easy to direct Roseanne Supernault, and she had the whole movie on her shoulders, and she succeeded with grace. In fact, after a while I started calling her ‘Miss Emotions’ because after few seconds of discussion she was nailing down the scene. This was a real pleasure.” Supernault is from East Prairie Metis Settlement near High Prairie, Alberta and has worked on APTN’s series Blackstone, and played the lead role in “Rhymes For Young Ghouls,” which was featured as one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Top 10 films. Most recently, she won Best Actress at the American Indian Film Festival for MAÏNA. “Maina is a very physical character, and I made sure to play her in a modern contemporary way. When I say this I mean I was hyper aware of what I had been given from the universe,” said Supernault. “I didn’t want this romanticized image that has been recycled and perpetuated in Hollywood. I didn’t want to do the same old song and dance; it has been done over and over again. I wanted people to see the humanity. I didn’t want that ‘noble savage’ bullshit or telling romanticized junk.”
Supernault says she thinks why the film turned out the way it did because Aboriginal people were on board from start to finish working with the director. “I am so glad Michel Poulette was authentic to our people. He approached Inuit and the Innu people and asked them, ‘Do you want to fund this film project.’ I mean, its not rocket science. We had cultural advisers throughout the shoot of the film; it was awesome. Nobody is doing this, and I think it’s groundbreaking in that sense.” She saw her character Maina as someone who had deep cultural resonance and the only reason why she is going do something is because her spirit guide was presenting it to her. Supernault saw the humour and toughness in Maina, and she wanted that part of her character to be seen also, aside from her commitment to rescue and save Nipki.
Uapeshkuss Thernish is the young Innu actor who plays Nipki, and veteran actors Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal are in supporting roles as Mania’s parents, the Chief Mishtenapeu and the spiritual medicine woman Tekahera. Supernault says that working with Cardinal and Graham was a great artistic experience, and she learned a lot through both actors. “I’ve known Tantoo for about three years, and we’ve been in a couple projects together. She is actually a mentor of mine. Tekahera is this very powerful woman, and I have to say when they cast Tantoo, they made the right choice. Graham taught me so many tricks of the trade that I wasn’t aware of; he’s old school, very grounded and creative, a hands-on present actor, and professional.” She said that Greene brings a dynamic to each scene that wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t cast. “There were so many times that he went above and beyond as an actor and pushed the story along, and I absorbed that. He showed me how not to have an ego, how to stay out of the way, and how sometimes your creativity is necessary to push the film along. Having Graham on board was instrumental in pushing the film to the finish line.”
MAÏNA is currently on its western Canadian release at select theatres and will be featured at the Adaka Cultural Film Festival in Whitehorse, Yukon from June 27 to July 3.
- The Globe Cinema – Calgary, AB – June 7-13
- Regina Rainbow Art Cinema – Regina, SK – June 13-19
- Magic Lantern, Saskatoon Roxy – Saskatoon, SK – June 13-19
- Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival – Ottawa, ON – June 20-21
- Kamloops, BC – June 20 – 27
- Kelowna, BC – June 20 – 27
- Edmonton (Clareview), AB – June 20 – 27
- Country Hills, Calgary, AB – June 20 – 27
- Whitby, ON – June 20 – 27
- Mississauga, ON – June 20 – 27
- Kanata, ON – June 20 – 27
- Sidney Stars Cinema – Sidney, BC – July 4-11
- Adaka Cultural Film Festival – Whitehorse, YK – June 27-July 3
- Fort McMurray, AB – (weekend special screening) – TBD
- Brandon, MB – (weekend special screening) – TBD
- Whitehorse, YK – (weekend special screening)– TBD
Please check www.unionpictures.ca/maina for an up to date list of screenings.