Indian Horse is a Canadian drama film, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and received a general theatrical release in 2018. The film was directed by Stephen Campanelli and written by Dennis Foon.
An adaptation of Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse, the film centres on Saul Indian Horse, a young Canadian First Nations boy who survives the Indian residential school system to become a star ice hockey player. The film and the book highlight the story behind Canada's indigenous residential schools. The film stars Sladen Peltier as Saul at age 6, Forrest Goodluck as Saul at age 15, and Ajuawak Kapashesit as Saul at age 22, as well as Edna Manitowabi, Evan Adams, Michiel Huisman, Michael Murphy and Martin Donovan.
The film was originally slated for production as a television film to air on Super Channel, but instead premiered as a theatrical film after Super Channel filed for bankruptcy in 2016. The film was shot primarily in Sudbury and Peterborough, Ontario.
The Indian Horse family, including six-year-old Saul and his older brother, retreat into their ancestral land to avoid the authorities after Saul's older brother is left ill by his time in an Indian residential school. Saul resolves never to go to a school, but his parents, converted to Christianity, are determined their eldest son will assimilate into heaven, and take him away to be blessed by a priest after he dies from his illness, leaving Saul with his grandmother. They never return. Saul and his grandmother stay put, but once cold weather starts,grandmother decides they must continue their trek. After their canoe capsizes, they must huddle to stay warm at night; they continue their journey on foot through snow. When his grandmother dies, Saul is discovered by the authorities and forcibly moved to a residential school. There, he meets Lonnie, who cannot speak English. Father Quinney and his nun deem Lonnie an unsuitable name and call him Aaron, and forbid the use of their Ojibwe language, beating Lonnie when he cannot comply.
In the school, Saul witnesses the nun and instructors abuse the children, and struggles to endure. One instructor, Father Gaston, looks for change and convinces Father Quinney to provide an outdoor activity, ice hockey. Saul does not meet the age requirement to play, but convinces Father Gaston to give him the job of maintaining the rink, which allows him to spend time on the ice. From televised hockey games, he also begins learning techniques. When one of the school's players is injured, Saul steps forward as a substitute and astounds Father Gaston with his demonstrated talent. Saul also declines to join Lonnie's escape attempt; Lonnie is recaptured and punished.
The school gives up Saul to a foster home in a mining town, where he can further pursue hockey. Saul joins an all-Indigenous team called the Moose, who travel to games between Indian reserves, and receives the jersey number 13, "for luck". Winning a key game, Saul is treated as a star player in Hockey Night in Canada style, but the team faces racial discrimination afterwards in a pub.
Saul attracts the notice of the Toronto Monarchs, but does not want to leave his friends in the Moose. His team insists he take the offer, and he reluctantly joins the Monarchs. There, he keeps his number 13, which no one else wants due to Triskaidekaphobia. Initially excelling, he is nevertheless put off by a racist caricature of him in the newspaper, and stunned when Father Gaston appears, professing pride in where hockey has taken Saul, and admitting the abuses in the school were wrong. On the ice, Saul becomes the target of racist slurs from opponents and teammates alike, while the audience throws toy Indians onto the ice. Pushed into violence, he is confined to the penalty box and leaves the team. Taking odd low-level jobs, he drifts from place to place between 1979 and 1989. He sees Lonnie in an alley, suffering alcoholism. Facing his own health issues after severe damage to his liver, Saul is accepted by the rehabilitation centre Rising Dawn, where a group therapy leader encourages him to confront the root of his suffering. He travels back to the now closed school, where it is revealed that he had been sexually exploited by Father Gaston. He makes a pilgrimage back to his ancestral lands, and then returns to his foster family, where he is happily welcomed by his foster family and former Moose teammates.
Indian Horse was the highest-grossing English Canadian film of 2018, making $1.69 million.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 75%, based on 12 reviews, and an average rating of 5.89/10.
Awards and accolades
The film won the top award at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival. Sladen Peltier received a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 6th Canadian Screen Awards.
Controversy erupted over the casting of Will Strongheart in the supporting role of Virgil in the film due to the actor's history of criminal domestic violence. Strongheart has attributed his past actions to problems with drugs and alcohol, stating that he regrets such actions, and has reformed since attaining sobriety in 2010.
- Takeuchi, Craig (August 23, 2017). Film adaptation of Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse to screen at VIFF 2017. The Georgia Straight. Vancouver Free Press. Retrieved on April 12, 2018.
- Peebles, Frank (February 2, 2017). Indian Horse head to screen with local talent. Prince George Citizen. Glacier Media. Retrieved on April 12, 2018.
- About the Film. Retrieved on 25 March 2019.
- Super Channel Announces Projects Funded for Development. Broadcaster. Annex Business Media (September 14, 2015). Retrieved on April 12, 2018.
- Reid, Regan (November 25, 2016). Production underway on Indian Horse. Playback. Brunico Communications. Retrieved on April 12, 2018.
- 2018′s top-grossing Canadian films, box office. Playback'' (January 3, 2018). Retrieved on January 4, 2018.
- Indian Horse (2018). Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved on October 15, 2019.
- Greater Vancouver International Film Festival Society (13 October 2017). Indian Horse Wins Coveted VIFF Super Channel People's Choice Award. Press release. Retrieved on 15 October 2017.
- Bellrichard, Chantelle. "Actor's history of domestic violence brought to light as Indian Horse opens in theatres across Canada". CBC News. April 15, 2018.
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