After sitting through a private screening of the movie Fire Song, a film by Adam Garnet Jones, I thought the director captured some realities of life on the reservation, and it’s definitely a movie worth checking out.
The movie follows Shane, the lead character played by Andrew Martin, who is struggling with the suicide of his sister Destiny while he supports his mother Jackie, played by Jennifer Podemski. Shane also has to grapple with his personal life, being gay and in the closet, while being in a relationship with his girlfriend Tara, played by Mary Galloway. And if that wasn’t enough, Shane has to deal with hiding his true feelings for boyfriend David, played by Harley Legarde.
The story is set in a remote northern Ontario First Nation, where the community is dealing with the recent suicide of a band member (Destiny), and all the while, Shane is confronted by a series of events that make his decision about attending college a difficult one.
I had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Martin about playing his character and how he approached it. “I drew parallels to my life into the character of Shane,” Martin said. “Shane is gay, living on the rez, and he has to look out at the dangers he faces because of some people’s perceptions. Also a feeling of alienation he feels toward himself.”
This is Andrew Martin’s first lead role in a film where you see him in almost every frame. I asked him how he felt when he got the role, carrying the movie on his character. “I was overwhelmed and had my doubts about doing justice to the character of Shane. What if I couldn’t pull it off? But then I realized they picked me for a reason, and I just went for it.”
Without giving too much away from the film, the toughest scenes Martin said he had to do were with his onscreen boyfriend Harley Legarde. “One particular scene I did with Harley was pretty tough, and I really had to dig deep down and feel what Shane would be feeling in that moment, and that was with the river scene.”
This was also Legarde’s first supporting role in a film. He originally wanted to try out for the lead character, but after reading the script, he decided to audition for the role of David instead. The character David is dealing with his best friend Destiny’s death, and (like Shane) is in the closet and hiding his relationship with his boyfriend. “Some of the location shots were filmed in my community of Fort Williams First Nation, so of course there would be a lot of similarities,” Legarde said. “I think the film really did a great portrayal of youth on First Nations and what they struggle through. Also the struggles of being gay in a small community and coming out.”
Fire Song also stars another up-and-coming actress, Mary Galloway of the Cowichin First Nation, who plays Tara. Galloway received the news she got the role at the same time Martin did on their flight back to Toronto from Thunder Bay, where they had auditions and a one-week actor’s workshop. “I was on the flight back home when they announced on the airplane speakers that Andrew and me got the roles of Shane and Tara,” Galloway said. “So that was exciting, and then we couldn’t share our good news with anyone until they made the official announcement.”
Galloway said she enjoyed filming with the crew and fellow co-stars, but some of the scenes were very intense. The character of Tara goes through her own struggles of not knowing what the real truth is in front of her, as well as her relationship with Shane. “There were some intense scenes with the role of Tara, and I think her vulnerably was what I had to really focus on when I played the role,” Galloway said. “What I really like about Fire Song is that it doesn’t embellish what reservation life is about and keeps really true-to-life.”
This film will introduce moviegoers to a host of new young First Nation actors, as well as other supporting cast members like award winning actress Jennifer Podemski and recording artist Derek Miller. Director Garnet Jones sums it up best: “The film is about Shane trying to have it all—trying to do the best he can in an impossible situation.”
Fire Song premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13th, 2015. Toronto On-line Film Magazine says, “The first feature film by Adam Garret Jones, Fire Song, works not only as a great example of First Nations cinema in Canada, but also as a teen film that could reach much further with audiences. Never one to shy away from talk of suicide, drug use, and sexuality in frank, bluntly honest detail, Jones expertly depicts one of the most emotionally conflicted period’s in a teenager’s life.”