Based on true events, Tracey Deer‘s feature debut relives the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990 in Quebec, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Mohawk girl named Beans.

Most of us know Canadians are kind and loving people, but even they have a dark past that can’t be forgotten. That’s exactly what Deer does, by sketching a necessary picture and taking us on Beans’ personal journey into young adulthood. Even though she’s only 12, this young girl also wants to belong, making the common mistake of growing up too fast and losing her innocence during the resistance against the Sûreté du Québec, the RCMP, and the Canadian Armed Forces. This three-month standoff was referred to in the media as the “Oka Crisis”, in which communities protested the expansion of a golf course, hereby destroying forest and a sacred burial ground.

Deer uses archive footage to show the reality of what exactly took place 30 years ago, to accentuate the gravity and extend of these horrific events. Her female Indigenous vision gives audiences an even more timely message on racial violence. While often moving the political turmoil to the background, she chooses to focus on the coming-of-age of adolescent Beans (Kiawentiio – ‘Anne With An E‘), creating a wide range of emotions due to the difficult circumstances she’s growing up in. While Deer does a great job directing her feature debut, it feels like she’s trying to cram too many different things in at once, making it difficult to give certain topics, like sexual abuse, violence in different forms, and racism the full attention it deserves and really needs. Nonetheless you’ll feel completely satiated by the end.

This timely film is brimful of talent, in front and behind the camera. Promising young star Kiawentiio is phenomenal as the titular character Beans. Channeling her young playfulness, she delivers a compelling performance that feels genuinely authentic. Besides Kiawentiio, it’s Rainbow Dickerson (playing her onscreen mother) whose talent shines through. The rest of the cast’s acting feels a bit choppy, but makes up for it in energy.

Beans‘ balances a coming-of-age drama while confronting ongoing racial conflicts between Indigenous peoples and colonizers. There’s an important message on self-identity, that feels a bit too on the nose and cliché in the end, but Deer’s competent ways of storytelling proves once again we need more diverse voices in this predominantly white male industry.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Beans will have its final screening on Tuesday, September 15 from 6pm (online platform). Tickets are available HERE

TIFF20 Review – ‘Beans’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 13, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 92 min.

PRODUCTION: A Mongrel Media, Métropole Films Distribution release of an EMA Films production. Producer: Anne Marie Gelinas. Executive producers: Justine Whyte, Meredith Vuchnich.

CREW: Director: Tracey Deer. Screenplay: Tracey Deer, Meredith Vuchnich. Editor: Sophie Farkas-Bolla. Cinematography: Marie Davignon. Music: Mario Sévigny.

WITH: Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Violah Beauvais, Paulina Jewel Alexis, D’Pharaoh Mckay Woon-a-Tai, Joel Montgrand, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve, Taio Gélinas.

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