Mohawk filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau spent many years developing the screenplay for her 2019 sophomore feature-length film. Rustic Oracle, the director’s second dramatic feature, has so far taken home 26 national and international awards, including British Columbia’s Leo Award for Best Motion Picture and Best Lead Performance.
Coming from a strong background as a documentarian and provoked by the overwhelming multitude of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and how these tragedies affected her own community of Kanesatake, Boileau felt she needed to tell the story of those left behind.
“I wanted to explore the angle of what families go through, so people get it and people realize that we're talking about human beings and how kids process it,” Boileau told Windspeaker.com over the phone from her home in Quebec.
Backed by the Indigenous production house Nish Media, Rustic Oracle is the fictional story of Susan (Carmen Moore), a hardworking and dedicated single mother of two girls who is forced to embark on a road trip with her youngest daughter Ivy (Lake Delisle), when her teenager Heather (McKenzie Deer Robinson) suddenly disappears from their First Nations community.
Boileau’s original thought was to approach this serious subject as a documentary, but over time she felt she could make a greater connection with audiences through dramatic narrative.
“I think there's still this wall that exists, like the us and them wall,” said Boileau, “and that's one of the things that I wanted to kind of break down with a film like this.”
Boileau’s intention from the start was connecting a broader audience to the subject.
“I was thinking of a non-Indigenous audience mainly because I was wanting to reach out to these people who are maybe not aware of the situation,” Boileau said. “It's with those people in mind that I made the film thinking, well if I can reach out to those people then they will naturally become allies. Like building bridges between people.”
After a deeply emotional experience writing the screenplay Boileau assembled a cast and crew of predominantly Indigenous actors, artists, and technicians, which she feels created a beautifully balanced and inspiring atmosphere on set that brought out the best in everyone’s work.
“I wanted the actors to feel comfortable and I wanted this space where everyone felt safe and they were allowed to feel what they were feeling, and I think you can see that in the film.”
Rustic Oracle unfolds like a series of fragmented memories within a dream. Taking place in the 1990s, the events of the story are viewed through the eyes of Susan’s eight-year-old daughter Ivy as she experiences the disappearance of her teenage sister Heather and her mother’s high tension search for her missing daughter.
Bathed in natural light and muted pastels we are transported into Ivy’s version of the events through the child’s memories that contrast with the slow unraveling of a nightmare, and her mother’s anguished pursuit of the truth.
The chemistry and dynamic between veteran actor Carmen Moore (Cardinal, Blackstone) and young newcomer Lake Delisle is incredible to witness and is the very foundation that Rustic Oracle is built on. In this film Boileau sets out to create strong Indigenous female characters and she succeeds at every turn.
By focusing on this relationship and the vast emotional contrast between Susan the terrified mother and her innocent daughter Ivy, Boileau expertly manifests a well-orchestrated balance of tension and release within the narrative.
“I really wanted it to show what a mom goes through, but also what a kid goes through. I wanted the film to not just be dark and hard and heavy, so I think that by having a child's perspective as main point of view it allows for moments of light. Moments that just breathe and contain fragments of hope,” Boileau said.
The director admits she feels that at this point in history where the majority of theatrical film releases are dominated by Star Wars and Marvel superheroes she wants to make films that have an impact on society.
Boileau feels that cinema is a broad spectrum multidiscipline art form that is often underutilized due to the current dominance of blockbuster filmmaking obsessed with special effects thrills and simple overworked narratives.
Boileau explained how these often regurgitated plot lines do a disservice to Indigenous peoples.
“I grew up in a community that was very matriarchal and the women were the leaders, and yet on screen every single thriller that ever existed…Indigenous women are either depicted as weak, or they have to be saved by a White guy, or they're dead.”
Ultimately, with Rustic Oracle, filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau has skillfully crafted an emotionally complex piece of cinema deeply infused with powerful feminine energy. A film that explores the ongoing real life struggle of the families left behind, and the tragic reverberations that echo through many Indigenous communities across this continent.
The powerful and award winning Rustic Oracle celebrates it video on demand premiere Nov. 17. You can access the film on Apple TV, Bell On Demand, Videotron On Demand, and Vimeo On Demand.
By David Owen Rama, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com