Red Snow, a film about a Gwich'in soldier taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan, held its Northwest Territories premiere in Dettah – where parts of the movie were shot – on Tuesday evening.
More than a hundred people, including director Marie Clements and a range of northerners who worked on Red Snow, attended the screening at the Chief Drygeese Centre.
"To bring the film here, where we shot the northern scenes, feels incredible – to be able to share it with the members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, who helped create it," said Pablo Saravanja, who served as a line producer on Red Snow, managing day-to-day aspects of the production's northern shoot.
Dettah appears as a stand-in for Aklavik in the movie.
"The whole thing started here, so that's huge for me," said Clements on a red carpet laid out at the Chief Drygeese Centre. "The story originated here and I really wanted audiences to see the land and the faces of the people.
"We shot in four languages so it was a huge commitment from our culture keepers and translators. Our actors had to learn new languages. And that all started here."
"I'll do anything for my language," said Inuvik-born Lillian Elias, with a smile. Elias served as the Inuvialuit cultural advisor for the film. "I've been working with my language for years and years. If it's to do with my language, I'll do it," she said.
Elias had not seen any preview screenings of the film. Tuesday's showing was her first time seeing the end product.
"I'm a little nervous," she admitted.
Locals 'levelled up' on shoot
"To see all these people come here, to Dettah, is very heartwarming," said Johanne Black, of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Black hopes more productions like this can help to provide more opportunities for residents, particularly youth.
"I'm hoping that this sparks interest in terms of more movies being produced here and more people being interested in being part of the movies," she said.
Productions like Red Snow can access rebates from the NWT Film Commission – an arm of the territorial government – to help offset the costs of moving a production to the territory and hiring locals.
"Everybody rose to the occasion and really delivered," said Saravanja, a co-founder of Yellowknife-based Artless Collective production studio, recounting his time working with NWT-based creative professionals and local extras.
"There were a ton of people that didn't have an enormous amount of experience, and they levelled up," he said.
"This is one of the finest pieces of filmmaking ever made in Canada. This thing has been winning awards all over the country, and it's really important to see an Indigenous film, written and directed by an Indigenous filmmaker, presented here."
Clements said she hopes NWT residents "see themselves" in the finished movie, which follows Gwich'in soldier Dylan, played by Asivak Koostachin, as he is ambushed by the Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
As Dylan is being interrogated by a Taliban commander, memories of the love – and death – of his Inuk cousin, Asana, surface. He escapes along with a Pashtun family.
"Dylan uses where he's from, his family, and living in the North, to help him survive real hardship in being taken by the Taliban," said Clements.
"It's about using who you are, your cultural identity and strength, to move forward and survive."
Red Snow is screening as part of the Yellowknife International Film Festival, which runs until Sunday, November 10. The movie screens for a second time, this time at Yellowknife's Capitol Theatre, on Sunday.