Interview with the cast & crew of INDIAN HORSE
In the late 1950’s Ontario, eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway family and committed to one of Canada’s notorious Catholic Residential Schools. In this oppressive environment, Saul is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his Indigenous heritage while he witnesses horrendous abuse at the hands of the very people entrusted with his care. Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the favourite Canadian pastime - hockey. He secretly teaches himself to play, developing a unique skill. He seems to see the game in a way no other player can.
You can see this film:
FRIDAY | 24.05 | 20:15 | GOLDEN APPLE CINEMA 3
FRIDAY | 31.05 | 19:30 | GOLDEN APPLE CINEMA 6
His talent leads him away from the school’s misery. But the ghosts of Saul’s past are always present, and threaten to derail his promising career and future. INDIAN HORSE, an adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s award winning novel, is a moving drama shedding light on the dark history of Canada’s Residential Schools and the indomitable spirit of Indigenous people.
Producer Christine Haebler: I was driving to work on Friday April 13th, 2012 when I heard Richard Wagamese interviewed on the radio. There was something in his voice and the way he talked that made me really listen. I simply knew I had to read that book. For years both me and my producing partner Trish Dolman talked about finding a Residential School story.
How familiar were you with the concept of those Residential Schools?
Co-producer Trish Dolman: I grew up on a ranch near one of the last Residential Schools to close in Canada, wondering why some kids didn’t attend the same public school as we did. You could tell something bad was going on there and later I learned of the horrors. It always felt like Canada’s dark secret.
Haebler: I knew about Residential Schools and the resulting social effects and trauma because my father talked to me about it. He is European and had a great interest in Canadian Indigenous culture. While my own children had gone through the public school system without learning one thing about Residential Schools and I knew, right then and there, that this was an opportunity to do something profound – a chance to foster empathy, compassion and understanding for the injustice perpetrated against the Indigenous people of Canada from the aggressive Assimilation Act that created the Residential School system.
Did you speak with the author Richard Wagamese about adapting his novel?
Haebler: Richard was very involved, reading each draft version of the script as it came in. He wanted a director that could make a small movie look big, as he understood the limitations of our production budget. He was extremely happy with the end result and called it “a powerful, stark, touching and empathetic retelling of my novel.”
For which you were depending on a qualified cast!
Haebler: It was the team’s intent to cast the film with newcomers; we wanted to see new faces. We took on board an expert in Indigenous casting who had to find as many hockey players who could act as possible. There was a hockey tournament called the Little Native Hockey League. BINGO! The first priority was finding Saul #1 (7-11-years-old) and Saul #2 (14-18-years-old) as they would be harder to find than Saul #3, who is the oldest version. We sent people to the event with large recruiting posters and 500 flyers. They also blasted Facebook and local newspapers. The event was a success, we received over 250 submissions that we then narrowed down to about 50 kids from all over the country.
One of them was Sladen Peltier, who gives a magnificent performance as Saul #1.
Haebler: Just before the casting call was closed, Sladen auditioned. There was something so pure and tender about him, he was very special and telegenic. He wasn’t an experienced actor so we needed to see if he could improve. We asked four candidates to take some acting lessons, and Sladen was the one who had improved the most. He is a gifted hockey player. His father had been a semi-professional player and was one of his coaches so we knew he would be good on the ice. The challenge was then finding two more actors that could sort of look like Sladen and skate as well.
With the perfect cast on board, you were able to move forward to production.
Haebler: The shooting of INDIAN HORSE was fairly difficult. It is a period film spanning from 1959 to 1989, shot in various seasons in a Northern community, while battling the physical elements, it had a sensitive subject matter and a new and very unique cast. The new actors were nervous, but we hired an excellent acting coach, and an Ojibwe dialect coach. Sladen’s learning curve was impressive. He was a very fast learner, disciplined and concentrated on set as well as having a golden personality.
Did you carry the Indigenous legacy onto the set?
Haebler: Each shooting day opened with a ceremony, with a qualified person coming onto the set to smudge, pray, sing, and give blessing, performing ceremony over the set, the equipment and any cast and crew member who wanted it.
There is a lot of ice hockey scenes included. How difficult were they to shoot?
Haebler: Vintage hockey equipment, costumes and props were needed to make the period hockey games look authentic. It was unseasonably warm and the team was deeply concerned it wasn’t going to be cold enough to make ice on the outdoors rinks, and there would be no snow. Just finding rinks was tough, but then finding ones where they could get ice time was even harder. In the middle of the hockey season, ice time is precious and the teams are not willing to give it up lightly.
Even more weather inconveniencies?
Haebler: The Nunnery as a school location was fantastic, however there were challenges with it as well. Workmen had cut the power line to the school, so there was no heat, no light in many rooms and many of the bathrooms were not in working order. The weather plunged to between -10 and - 15 and the school was an icebox. There were about 50 extras at any given time with their parents, as well as a large cast and crew to keep warm. Production had heaters blowing in every room and generators going 24 hours a day and they still could not warm the place up. Then it started snowing heavily.
What will you remember most from this shooting?
Haebler: The love and support for each other and the realization that we were making something important was palpable every moment on set. This filming experience changed lives. It changed the way many of the crew experienced Indigenous culture and it created new opportunities for many Indigenous people within the communities.
Based on information from the producer’s press files
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