The interior lives of kids are far more complicated and mysterious than adults believe. Sometimes it takes a 15-minute short film and a filmmaker like Adam Garnet Jones to reveal the youthful mind, and to remind the rest of us of the power of that long-forgotten state.
Cloudbreaker, which screens Friday at the Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre, follows 10-year-old Darren as he prepares for a special and powerful transformation of his own making. "Other kids might want to transform into superheroes. He has a different idea. He wants to turn into this wolf who can move the clouds in the sky," says Garnet Jones from Toronto, where he lives and contributes to InsideOut, Toronto's lesbian and gay film and video festival, Vancouver's Out on Screen and the imagineNATIVE media arts festival.
"Darren is feeling bigger than his body," the 25 year-old writer/director says, adding that it's a feeling everyone experiences as a kid. Darren is a young First Nations boy with no direct connection to that part of his identity—just like the filmmaker was, when he was young. "My family left our bigger, extended family when I was quite young," he says. "I knew growing up that we were native but I didn't hang out with a lot of other native people until I was older—until we moved to the west coast, really. Through a lot of my formative years, it was just an idea."
To become the cloud-breaker, Darren turns to library books and finds a "pop-culture idea of what it means to be native." This isn't a knock against libraries, but a scene informed by the director's own youth. "I hung out in a library a lot, looking at...books about magic native rituals. They're just made up. I can't remember who wrote them but they're just these faux anthropological stories."
Whether Darren succeeds in his transformation remains a mystery for Friday night's viewing.
But the success of the film—which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and was honoured by the Speaker of the House of Commons—doesn't hinge on that: it succeeds because it's true to how a boy like Darren's story should be told—offering no concrete answers about what's troubling him, what's making him want to transform, beyond being a kid—and recognizes that his story is worthy of being told in the first place.
"People really pressured me, when I was writing it, to name what this kid's problem is," Garnet Jones says. "A lot of people said, "You have to tell us what's wrong with this kid.' I felt like it was a lot of things. If I name what the issue is, it would be a problem because I felt he was an interesting character coming from, potentially, a lot of different places...I didn't want it to be, "Oh, this is a film about a gay kid, or an urban native kid.' Some people wanted me to put in a scene from school, something happening at school."
Garnet Jones resisted, which may frustrate some viewers—to those who look at the film entirely through adult eyes, that kid is this or that. Childhood, arguably, is not so easily summed up. The filmmaker was careful to support that idea through the visuals. "As a director I did try to keep that sense of mystery, to keep the audience at a certain distance, where we're watching these kids but we're not part of that world.
"There's a lot of frames that are wider; there's not a lot of camera movement," he says. "It's slowly paced and quiet, allowing the action to unfold as it is and not drawing a lot of attention to specific things in the frame to say, "This thing is very important.'"
Besides Darren (played by Patrick Vatour, who Garnet Jones credits as carrying the film), it's his friend Jason (Madison Bohren)—
audience or witness to Darren's transformation—who mostly appears in the scenes. There's the odd adult. And watching the film, you may realize it's odd that, as adults, we should want to dissect childhood, instead of respecting and beholding the mystery of it in film.
Cloudbreaker, Friday, November 30 at the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre, 2158 Gottingen, 7pm.