“We, as Indigenous people, as the first peoples of this land, have so many gifts and so many stories inside of us…and it’s very important for us to share those stories so that the rest of non-Indigenous Canada can see us as human beings.”
– Cheri Maracle, Mohawk actor, singer, songwriter
To mark Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Toronto Film School helped celebrate the success of Mi’kmaw filmmaker Tim Myles by sharing his story during a special screening of his semi-autobiographical short film, Little Bird.
The 2016 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre alumnus not only wrote and directed, but also stars in the “powerful” 15-minute short, which tells the story of a young Indigenous man who finds strength in family while struggling with the loss of his mother.
“This film by Tim Myles is such a gift and we’re so proud in the Toronto Film School community to know that one of our alumni made something so special,” Toronto Film School’s Emmy-winning President Andrew Barnsley said of Little Bird, which recently made its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
“To be able to celebrate the success of the film with him on this Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada is hugely emotional and hugely powerful. This was a very special film and very special event.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes, president of Toronto Film School’s affiliate, Yorkville University, who characterized the Little Bird screening as “an opportunity to reflect on the power of film, and also of higher education, to be a positive force for change in society.”
“Recently, it was my privilege to declare today a day off for our (TFS and Yorkville) faculty and staff across Canada, providing an opportunity to all of us to learn and reflect on our profound, and indeed our moral obligation to become actively engaged in the spirit of truth-seeking and reconciliation…” Christensen Hughes said during the event’s opening remarks.
“Consistent with calls for action resulting from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is far past time for academics…to critically confront the academy’s history, examine our shortcomings, and catalyze needed change.”
To those ends, Christensen Hughes went on to highlight the recent initiatives Toronto Film School and Yorkville University have undertaken to achieve some of those goals, including:
“And, last but not least, today we are witnessing firsthand the power of film as an agent of social change,” she said, introducing Little Bird to the 70 students, staff, faculty and alumni who gathered at Toronto’s Royal Cinema for the Sept. 30 live screening event.
Written during the COVID-19 pandemic and filmed this past June on the Saugeen Shores, Little Bird is described as a “deeply moving, yet often humorous tribute” to Myles’ mother, Joelle, who died in 2013 death of polycystic kidney disease.
“This film is a love letter to my mom and to my Mi’kmaw heritage. There was a long time when I was very nervous for people to see it because it represents a very big piece of me – a big chunk of my life and what I’ve gone through in the last eight years,” Myles said.
“It’s honestly for anyone who’s ever lost anyone – a parent, a sibling, or a loved one. Do not bear the weight of grief alone: that’s what this film is about, and that’s what I hope audiences take away from it.”
The film earned rave reviews from Myles’ former teacher, Hart Massey, the director of TFS’s Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program, who described the experience of watching Myles on the big screen “like seeing one of my children reach their potential.”
“Tim was always such a talented actor and talented performer, so to see him extend that in this performance about a topic that is extremely meaningful really impacted me in a deep way,” he said.
“I lost my own father recently, so this film just spoke to me personally about grieving with other people – that’s the only way we can get through.”
Following the exclusive screening, Barnsley moderated an on-stage panel discussion with Myles and two of Little Bird cast members – “highly respected” Mohawk actor, singer and songwriter Cheri Maracle (Blackfly, Moccasin Flats, Blackstone, Unsettled), and fellow Mi’kmaw actor and longtime friend, Lisa Nasson, who were both on hand at the event.
All three touched on the responsibility they feel, as Indigenous professionals in the creative arts, for the work they do to reflect positively on their respective communities.
“A good friend of mine once said a long time ago, ‘To be Indigenous is to fight,’ and I think what that really means is that to be treated with respect, to be treated as a human being in Canada as an Indigenous person, is something we are still striving for in 2021,” said Maracle, who hails from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
“So, every story we do, every story that comes out of our bodies – from our history, from our ancestors – is very important both to ourselves for healing, but also to express who we are, our traditions, our culture.”
“Everything I do, personally, reflects on my community, where I came from and who I grew up around,” added Nasson, a Mi’kmaw actor from Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia.
“Everything I’ve learned was from there – that’s where I learned to love the land and love everything around me and learn from her. She taught me what creation was and what creativity was. Now, having the opportunity to be able to be a voice, it’s a responsibility I take on inside of me…I want to make my community proud.”
For Myles, who admits to struggling with his Indigenous identity at times, the presence of both his maternal aunt and some of the elders from the nearby Saugeen First Nation on the Little Bird set helped make the experience all the more authentic and healing.
“My mom was a proud Mi’kmaw woman, but my father’s side is not Indigenous, so I sometimes didn’t know where I fit in. With Little Bird, I felt it very important to honour my heritage, to honour my mother. She never wanted me to forget who I was or where I came from,” he said.
“I want to help elevate Indigenous stories because we are the original storytellers with lots of stories to tell. I’m still learning a lot from my community and my elders and my family, but that’s a responsibility I take really seriously.”