TIFF18: Through Black Spruce

A Cree woman travels to Toronto to try and locate her missing sister in Through Black Spruce. Annie Bird (Tanaya Beatty) lives in the Northern Ontario town of Moosonee with her mother Lisette (Tina Keeper) and uncle Will (Brandon Oakes). Over a year ago, Annie’s twin sister Suzanne left for a modeling career in Toronto and hasn’t been heard from since. While traveling to Toronto with a friend, Annie decides to try and find out what happened to her sister.

Veteran filmmaker Don McKellar (Last NightThe Grand Seduction) directs this film that delves into the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, which has been a growing issue for at nearly five decades. Through Black Spruce tells two simultaneous stories of Annie’s search for her sister in Toronto, as well as her family’s plight back home in Moosonee. Annie finds herself plunged headfirst into the modeling world her sister partook in and even begins an affair with photographer Jesse (Kiowa Gordon). Meanwhile, back home Will is tormented by local drug dealer Marius (Wesley French), who is also looking for Suzanne.

While I can say that Through Black Spruce is still a relatively decent film, it does feel off that it is a Caucasian filmmaker in Don McKellar who is directing a film that deals nearly entirely with the First Nation’s community. This story would definitely be better suited for someone like Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls). McKellar even all but drops the story of Suzanne’s disappearance by the end and focuses more on the drug dealer aspect of the story, which leaves the viewer asking what type of story he was trying to tell in the first place.