Can one movie revitalize a community?
September 18, 2018 11:20 AM   Subscribe

The first Haida language film could have lasting impacts

Actors in the new film Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife), which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, didn’t just have to learn their lines for the film — they had to learn an entire language.
posted by poffin boffin (6 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
“That was a massively difficult task ... only three or four of the cast knew how to speak the language and virtually no youth,” said Leonie Sandercock, a UBC planning professor and one of the film’s screenwriters.

Known as a language isolate with no commonality to any other language in the world, the two dialects of Haida Gwaii were spoken by fewer than 20 people, mostly elders. The film, which is spoken entirely in the Haida language, is the first in the world and the first feature shot on Haida Gwaii.

Revitalizing the Haida language has been a priority for the leaders of the Haida Nation. So when Sandercock first visited their community as part of a planning course at UBC, they began talking about the potential for a film that would feature the language and spur interest in more people learning it.
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia (Google maps), literally "Islands of the Haida people" (Wikipedia).

Fascinating, thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

This summer I met the daughter of one of the elders in this movie. She said her mother was over the moon to be in it. I am really looking forward to seeing this!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also looking forward to seeing this. It looks really good.

A bit more here:

The most challenging task was hiring actors and teaching them how to deliver lines in the language of their ancestors. Most of the remaining fluent Haida speakers had a hand in translating the script from English into the northern and southern Haida dialects: Gaw Xaad kil and HlGaagilda Xaayda kil. The cast included elders who hadn’t spoken the language in more than 60 years, ever since residential schools forbade them from doing so. Those actors had to reach deep, often past painful memories, to find their words and sounds.

And a short documentary on the making of: Making the world's first Haida-language feature film | CBC Short Docs
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Robert Bringhurst's books on Haida myth are brillant.
posted by kokaku at 1:20 PM on September 18, 2018

Thank you for this FPP. I have a personal interest in the Haida and other North Coast Cultures.

My brother married the love of his life 61 years ago. My sister-in-law, who passed away earlier this year, was a native Alaskan, a Tlingit. He recently described to me how much the Haida and Tlingit cultures are being taught and honored now. When he and Ruth were married it was so different, and not in a good way. He described how he was denied renting an apartment in the early years of their marriage because his wife was native.

He talked about how much the art of the Tlingit has advanced recently and how immersion programs help children be proud of their heritage and live well while bridging two cultures. His children work to support the programs that will continue to make their children proud of who they are. His eldest daughter raised $ millions to build the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.
posted by Altomentis at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

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