Hot off its world premiere at TIFF, Tim Myles is bringing his acclaimed new short film, Little Bird, back to Toronto Film School for a special screening in honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
The Mi’kmaw filmmaker and actor said he’s honoured by the opportunity to screen the 15-minute, semi-autobiographical film, which tells the story of a young man struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, with his alma mater.
“It means the world to me. I’m so thankful and grateful that Toronto Film School has been so supportive of my career post-graduation,” said the Class of 2016 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre alumnus.
“I think it’s important to show other students that this is what TFS thinks of its students – that they want you to succeed, and that they will celebrate your successes with you. We’re a small, close-knit school, so it creates a real sense of community – and I always felt that when I was there.”
Hosted by Toronto Film School’s Emmy-winning President, Andrew Barnsley, the Little Bird screening will take place at The Royal Cinema, 608 College St., on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m., followed by a Q&A panel discussion featuring Myles, who both directed and stars in the film, and his two co-stars, Lisa Nasson and Cheri Maracle.
A limited number of tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis as of this Friday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. Any TFS staff, students or alumni who would like to attend are asked to email [email protected] For those unable to attend the event in person, the Q&A panel discussion with Myles and his cast will be live-streamed at 2:30 p.m. at https://create.torontofilmschool.ca/screening/littlebird/
Written during the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Bird tells a deeply personal story based on Myles’ own experience with grief following the 2013 death of his mother from polycystic kidney disease.
“Little Bird follows a young man who is in the middle of giving a eulogy at his mother’s funeral, and in a grief-induced panic attack, grabs the urn with her ashes and makes a run for it to spend one final day with her,” the 27-year-old native Newfoundlander said of the 2020 LIFT/imagineNATIVE Mentorship Grant-winning film, which mirrors his own emotional journey.
“Right after my mom passed away, I packed up all my things and moved to Toronto to follow my dreams of becoming an actor…but part of me always felt like I was running away at a very integral time that I should have spent grieving this tremendous loss.”
It wasn’t until the pandemic hit, in fact, that Myles took the time to truly process the magnitude of his heartbreak – feelings that, until then, he’d unsuccessfully attempted to tune out.
“I tried really hard to push that grief down, but it would always come out at really inappropriate times. Whenever I would go home for the holidays, it would rear its head and it was bad for a while,” he recalled.
“But during the pandemic, I had time to sit down and reflect on the last few years and to think about her – and that’s kind of when Little Bird came out.”
Filmed this past June on the Saugeen Shores near Southampton, Ontario, Little Bird is described as a “deeply moving, yet often humorous tribute” to Myles’ late mother, Joelle, as well as to his Mi’kmaw heritage.
Myles said the on-set presence of his aunt, whom he cast as the voice of his mother, helped make the experience of shooting Little Bird all the more healing and authentic. The pair smudged the set every morning before shooting and bonded with elders from the Saugeen First Nation, several of whom were also cast in small parts in the film.
“It was so, so special. I haven’t really talked about this part of filming before, but it was such an important, important thing for my aunt to come,” Myles said, noting that she even brought along to set one of his mother’s ceremonial jackets, which she’d had custom made on the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi reserve in Conne River, Newfoundland.
“I didn’t know she had brought it…so when I saw it hanging there, I just broke down. Everything just came up and it was very cathartic and beautiful. It was just a big healing experience – and I think it was what my mom would have wanted as closure to this era.”
Myles said he was also blessed in the casting of his two central female roles – landing “highly respected” Mohawk actor Cheri Maracle – who’s starred in series including Blackfly, Moccasin Flats, Blackstone, and Unsettled – for the role of Anjij, and fellow Mi’kmaw actor Lisa Nasson to play the role of his sister, Jade.
“I saw an interview with Cheri, and I recognized in her this energy and aura that embodied the character of Anjij – this quick-witted, but kind and gentle soul that, for my character, was so greatly needed at the time,” Myles said, noting that he sent the script to her agent and was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to sign on.
“For the role of Jade, I actually wrote it with Lisa in mind. She’s one of my oldest friends in Toronto and we’re both Mi’kmaw, so we have that bond.”
Now that Myles and his cast have made their big red carpet debuts at TIFF during the festival’s Short Cuts: YYZ Edition programme – an experience Myles characterized as “beautiful” – he’s excited to see if he can ride the film’s momentum all the way to Sundance and Slamdance.
He’s also currently writing his first feature – a dark coming of age about growing up in rural Newfoundland in the 1990s – while also working as an assistant costume designer.
No matter what comes next for him in his filmmaking career, Myles said he knows his mother would be proud of him, just as she always was.
“I used to write the plays when I was in school, and she was always there in the front row, supporting me. Every time I had an acting accomplishment, she would tell the whole world,” he laughed.
“She was just amazing and she would be very happy and very, very proud. I know she is looking down on me, wherever she may be.”