The story of being young and wanting to get away is universal and powerful. It is a yearning everyone can relate to, the desire to be more than where you are from and to eventually find yourself away from everything that has defined you. It is a hard enough venture without adding closeted homosexuality, a strict Aborigine culture and teenage suicide. This is the path Fire Song dares to explore. However, while endearing in many ways, it never quite delivers on any of these pinnacle themes.
Fire Song, directed by Adam Garnett Jones, follows Shane, a gay Anishnaabe teenager, in his struggle to choose between his future and his present. Shane’s world is destroyed when his sister Destiny commits suicide. His plans to move away to Toronto with his secret boyfriend, David, are put on hold while he takes care of his mother, their bills and their grieving. Trying to maintain his sexual orientation a secret from his Anishnaabe community and his girlfriend Tara, Shane must find a way to raise enough money to go to college by the fall and finally be free of his hometown or stay and deal with the pain and sadness this tragedy has left behind.
Shane, played by Andrew Martin, is shown immediately as a responsible and caring teenager as he gets ready to go to his sister’s funeral and drains a bucket full of water from the leak on their roof. His mother refuses to go to the funeral or sleep anywhere else other than her daughter’s room and Shane has no choice but to bear the burden of the family’s responsibilities and income. Even though everything has changed and Shane is struggling to stay afloat, he is still hopeful he will soon leave for college with David (Harley Legarde-Beacham) and they will be free to be together and in love.
The problem doesn’t lie in Shane’s convictions to leave or even in David’s, who wants to stay in his beloved community where he is learning to be a Medicine Man. The problem is clear whenever these two characters have a scene together and the connection is lukewarm and unexciting. There is no sense of urgency between them or even sparkling chemistry, which leaves the audience feeling like there might not be enough romance to fight for their relationship. Between David’s on again and off again decision to leave to Toronto and Shane sleeping with his girlfriend in order to get back at David, their love feels forced, like a tool the writer wields only to benefit the end goal of the film.
What the director successfully accomplishes is portraying this secluded Anishnaabe community and how its youth could feel isolated and depressed. While Destiny’s suicide is not the centre of the story, it shows how such a close community could be affected by the death of one person and how it might influence others down the same path of suicidal thoughts. It is initially shown as something the teenagers bypass; nothing that will stop them from drinking or having fun. However, as the movie progresses it shows how this unexplained death takes a toll on everybody and it is no longer something the Anishnaabe community can ignore.
The gloomy mood is wonderfully portrayed with Garnett Jones’s selection of shots of the desolate plains of Northern Ontario. The colour palette of dark greys and greens reaffirms the emotional state of the main characters. Even small details Garnett focuses on, like the leak in Shane’s house, brings urgency to the story and symbolizes how time is running out for Shane to make a decision between his duties and his future with David.
All in all, I believe the movie shows great emotion and struggles that are universal no matter what your cultural background is. Loneliness, mourning, the yearning of freedom is something any human can understand and it is only exacerbated by the closeness of the Anishnaabe community in the vastness of Northern Ontario. It is an interesting debut film that attempted to tackle many themes but ultimately felt convoluted and without a clear focus.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Wolfe Video