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Film sheds light on domestic violence, systemic oppression

Still photo from the film

Masha Scheele

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers thought often about the pregnant indigenous woman she found standing barefoot in the rain on a busy Vancouver street. 

Tailfeathers plays the character of Áila in the film The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, a role that mirrored her real life experience in Vancouver.

The barefoot woman, Rosie, who is played by Violet Nelson, escaped an assault by her boyfriend, and Áila chooses to bring Rosie into her home.

“One day it dawned on me that it could be a film and that could be my way of connecting with this woman. I don’t know if she’s seen it, I don’t know if she gave me her real name but it could be a means of getting closure in a sense, or being able to tangibly do something with the experience that propels it forward into some sort of positive light,” she said.

Tailfeathers, a member of the Kainai First Nation as well as Sámi from Norway, is co-writer, and co-director of the film in collaboration with Canadian screenwriter and director, Kathleen Hepburn.

Throughout their writing and production process, they stuck closely to the true story.

Hepburn added that they did create a few drafts that were drastically different but eventually came back to a place that was more true to the original experience. 

Over the course of the film, the two women deal with the after-effect of this traumatic event.

Áila comes to realize she’s ill-equipped to deal with the situation and that Rosie has a lot of strength on her own.

“I learned that it was so much more complicated than just leaving. It really opened my eyes as someone who hasn’t experienced interpartner violence and it’s something I didn’t witness growing up,” said Tailfeathers.

The film was created to honour their shared experience and shed light on the complicated issues surrounding domestic violence and structural systemic oppression.

Tailfeathers added that necessary services to help women like Rosie are deeply underfunded, underserved, and overwhelmed with need.

“Rosie is in this situation because she comes from generations of oppressive state policy designed to oppress and control indigenous communities and divide and fracture our families,” said Tailfeathers.

Tailfeathers explained that while the film ends on a heavy note, they wanted to honour the truth and also show that a solution to the issues touched on aren’t simple.

“Women can often try six or seven times before they’re able and willing to go,” she said.

Throughout filming, the most powerful part of the process for Hepburn was working in such an intimate space with the two women while exploring their characters.

In an effort to build capacity for young indigenous people in the film industry, 11 people worked on the film through a mentorship project.

“Working with young people and having them with us every step of the way grounded us and it was something very real and added meaning to the work,” said Tailfeathers.

Hepburn added that during the writing process they scripted with several women who went through the foster system, which was also an eye opening experience for them.

The film was originally released on Feb. 9, 2019 and can now be found on the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Canada’s Top Ten list of 2019. 

The film has also won multiple awards including several at the Vancouver International Film Festival and an honourable mention for Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF.

Tailfeathers said that every single screening they’ve attended somebody from the audience has come up to tell them they can relate to the story on a personal level, which has meant a lot to both her and Hepburn.

Hepburn is currently working on a hybrid teen coming of age/detective series, while Tailfeathers is editing a documentary shot over three years with a focus on community work done around the opioid crisis.

The Hinton Film Club, in collaboration with TIFF, will show The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open on Feb. 19. Go to the Hinton Film Club Facebook page for a link to the trailer and information on tickets.