In the world of Wildhood, it’s always golden hour or the pale yellow glow of a soft, full moon. Everything—from scraps of garbage to wildflowers—has the honey-edged radiance of light reflected from a campfire. Set in the waning hours of main character Link’s childhood, the endless-sunset vibe makes sense: The finiteness and the beauty hold each other in sharp relief.
Filmmaker Bretten Hannam says it took about a decade for the sweepingly shot Wildhood to reach the world, as industry insiders were often resistant to the queer, Indigenous storyline and subject matter. These very facets of representation—Link is 2-Spirit and struggling to connect to his Indigenous roots as he searches for his presumed-dead mother; his love interest Pasmay is a pow wow dancer who whispers sweet nothings in Mi’kmaq—are what make the movie such a landmark.
Watching the film, I was first struck that I’d never seen so many Indigenous actors on screen at once before. By the end, I was struck by the realness they imbued: The convenience store where Pasmay and Link meet by happenstance reminds me of one near my grandparent’s house (and the shop proprietors are similar, too). It’s country roads those of us who grew up on the east coast have driven down, populated with trucks full of people we’ve met. While Pasmay’s Joshua Odjick is shirtless enough to make Taylor Lautner proud, viewing Wildhood is viewing a world where whiteness is a minor character, at last.
Escaping an abusive home with his younger half-brother in tow, Link’s journey across the Annapolis Valley is as much about connecting to himself and his roots as it is about meeting his mother. Sometimes this results in a heavy handedness: Link’s fist is forever curled around a birthday card his mom sent, which he frowns at a lot; a shorthand for her missing from his life is conveyed in intentionally blurry shots of her face.
But the movie is at its strongest when it turns away from the family that abandoned its leads and leans into their frisson-filled connection instead (even if their most intimate moment borrows a touch too heavily from Moonlight). Traipsing the countryside together and awash in that magic-hour light, the two youth learn to be themselves while Pasmay teaches Link pow wow dancing.
One flaxen morning after, next to a thunderous waterfall, Link asks Pasmay to “Say something. In our language. I like to hear it.” Pasmay replies, in Mi’kmaq: “You act angry all the time. And maybe you are, but you have a big heart. You care more than anyone I know.”