Bella Coola filmmaker Banchi Hanuse was in Williams Lake Thursday, Nov. 16 for a screening of her newest film, Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun.
Shot on location in the Blackfoot plains of Southern Alberta, the film follows a young Siksika woman, Logan Red Crow, who is determined to compete in the Indian Relay Race, normally exclusively for men, at the Calgary Stampede.
Before the screening, Hanuse said she was excited for people to see the film in Williams Lake.
“You have the Stampede here and you’ve had Indian Relay Racing the last couple of years,” she said. “I hope it inspires local girls and guys to get into Indian Relay Racing.”
As seen through the film, the Red Crow family and the place where they live are both beautiful.
Logan’s father, Allison Red Crow, and her brother, Racey Big Snake, raise horses and train Logan for racing, while her mother, Jayme Red Snake, is a strong supporter.
Some of the scenes in the movie are filmed by drone, giving the audience an aerial view of the ranch, the vastness of the prairie and the small river meandering through their property.
It is thrilling to have a bird’s eye view as dozens of horses gallop together across the land or Logan rides solo at full speed.
Other times the filming is intimate.
Logan’s breathing is audible as she rides, the camera zooms into the horses’ hooves as they run, or gets super close to the side of Allison’s face as he drives, smokes a cigarette and chats lovingly about his daughter.
Other intimate scenes are when Logan spends time washing or massaging the horses and talking with them.
One of the horses nods his head, as if to say yes, many times when she asks him questions.
After Logan talks about emerging from a bad relationship and finding she could talk about it with the horses, she says, “horses are home.”
As the credits rolled at the end of the film, there was cheering and clapping from the sold-out audience at Paradise Cinemas.
Some people had travelled from Bella Coola and various Tsilhqot’in communities to see the show.
After the film, Hanuse answered questions from the audience, but not before she thanked everyone for coming.
When asked how long the filming lasted, she responded it was shot over a nine-month period and 26 shooting days.
Aubrey Jackson asked about her motivation for the film and how it connects to her Nuxalk culture.
“I grew up on the coast with fish and zero connection to horses, period,” she said.
Two months before she heard about the film she started thinking she would like to do a film about horses because she loved them. Then she got a call asking her to direct the film, she said.
“I’m really inspired by it,” Jackson told her.
Someone asked how many retakes they had to do, but she explained everything in the film was “pretty much real.”
“If we caught it, then that was it.”
Logan finished racing about three weeks ago and is studying at the University of Calgary, possibly toward becoming a veterinarian, Hanuse responded when asked if Logan is still racing.
Secondary school teacher Frances McCoubrey asked if any moments in the film stood out for Hanuse that will be in her brain for a long time.
Responding, Hanuse said the scene after Logan races at the Calgary Stampede where she and her brother are riding horses together back at the ranch.
“They are talking and having a moment and reflecting and the sunset was happening. It was really a beautiful moment and I felt like, ‘oh, I really love them and I feel like this is going to be a nice story.’”
Another scene she loved and said “was fun” is when Logan drives a small car to buy two hay bales. She has the hay placed on the back of the car and proceeds to drive home, often stopping to pick up one of the bales after it falls off the car.
Hanuse said when she first met Logan, Logan talked a lot about her grandparents.
“Her closeness with her grandparents really resonated with me. I grew up a lot in my life with my grandparents and I really saw that in the film.”
Margaret-Anne Enders asked where Hanuse learned to be such an incredible filmmaker.
Hanuse thanked her and said she started playing with video cameras when she was a kid.
Later she attended the media program at Capilano College in North Vancouver, which she said she highly recommends.
Wanting to be a cinematographer, she got into the trainee program with the film union, but realized she did not want to do that.
“I went back to school and went from there.”
Responding to a question about the title, Hanuse said the original title for the film was Warrior Ride, and she felt strongly about having a Blackfoot language title because Logan’s-grandparents and dad spoke the language.
“I am big on language activism and reclamation,” she said. “When she said she woke up before the sun [to train], the sun theme really resonated with me, so I wanted that in the title.”
Film club member Denise Deschene asked about the film’s funding, to which Hanuse said Telus Originals funded it, along with Creative BC and Indigenous Screen Office, which is federal.
“The producers were making this film and apparently Telus suggested me because I had a film called Nuxalk Radio that won an award at the Vancouver International Film Festival and Telus gave the film prize money.”
Deschene also asked how she chose to do the film about Logan and Hanuse said at first the producers wanted to do a film about a number of horse racing girls within Saskatchewan and Alberta.
She was given a list of names and biographies to pursue.
“Logan’s story stood out and she just seemed like such an amazing, fierce, beautiful, kind girl that I really wanted to know better and be her bestie and hang out with her on her ranch. I knew if I felt that way then other people would feel the same way, too.”
Oscar Dennis Sr. (Hotseta) and his wife Caitlin Nicholson, from Iskut, in Taltan Territory north of Terrace, travelled to see the film in Williams Lake.
Before it started they had a table selling the prototype of a figurine of an Indian Relay racer on a horse they have created.
The rider is based on their son Oscar Dennis Jr. riding their horse Tatencho, which means April in Taltan.
“We started working on this 15 months ago and got our first product in August 2023,” Dennis said, adding the patent is pending and the plan is to create more figurines based on different Indian Relay riders from Canada and the U.S.
They opened the business because they love Indian Relay Racing, First Nations culture and distributing products that celebrate First Nations.
In addition to wanting the figurines to be part of the mainstream toy industry in North America, the couple also hopes to open a ranch of their own one day for youth.
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