In Wildhood, a teenage boy sets out on a search for his mother. On this journey, he will find a way to trust again, learn more about himself, and connect with his people.
Bretten Hannam (director and writer), Guy Godfree (cinematographer), Shaun Rykiss (editor)
Phillip Lewitski, Joshua Odjick, Avery Winters-Anthony, Michael Greyeyes (cast)
September 11, 2021 (TIFF)
Wildhood is so many different things and I love it! It’s an adventure film, as well as a road trip film. It’s equal parts about coming of age and discovering one’s identity.
Link (Phillip Lewitski) and his little brother, Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony), have a volatile father and unstable life at home. For most of his life, Link has been told his mother died. When he finds proof that she didn’t, Link decides to burn his bridges with his father and go out in search for her. With no transport and no connections, Link and Travis are discovered by a fellow Mi’kmaw teenager, Pasmay (Joshua Odjick). On his way to a powwow, Pasmay offers to go on a detour to help find Link’s mother. In the process, Link learns more about his identity and what it means to be Mi’kmaw.
Wildhood is a beautiful film. It’s an homage to the stunning Canadian landscapes, gorgeously captured by cinematographer Guy Godfree. Aside from a few scenes within the city, the majority of the film takes place out in the open land, among verdant fields, forests, streams, and beaches. The sights are breathtaking and speak to the theme of freedom and heritage that underlines the film.
The story is a simple one — we’ve seen stories of teenagers discovering their queer identity when they meet a beautiful stranger. But never through the lens of a two-spirit Mi’kmaw teen. That’s what sets Wildhood apart and why I wanted to review this film.
Through Link and Travis, the audience learns about Mi’kmaw culture and the language. And though the film doesn’t explicitly state as much, Wildhood does make the case for not forgetting one’s heritage. Since Link and Travis haven’t grown up in the culture, everything seems new to them. Pasmay teaches them words and phrases, explains what a powwow is about and shows Link simple dance moves. Link and Travis thus act as audience stand-ins for viewers to learn about the culture.
Despite this, Wildhood effectively eschews exposition. There’s plenty of dialogue to keep audiences engaged while moving the plot forward. Considering the amount the film packs in, it doesn’t feel bloated, nor does it lag at any point. But this is not a fast-paced film. You’re meant to take in the scenery and enjoy the views. You’re supposed to sit with the characters to understand what they’re thinking. There’s more said in the quiet moments in this film than in most others. I like that Wildhood takes the time to just be silent from time to time.
The performances from the cast of young actors are excellent. Lewitski brings the emotional heft as the protagonist but Odjick isn’t just the love interest, which is a relief. Romantic subplots that don’t share the love interest’s inner world frustrate me, but Wildhood certainly gets that right.
There’s a strong cast of supporting characters who build out the world. One is never sure whether they can be trusted or not, but as Link becomes more comfortable in his own skin and with his people, the tension dissipates.
I did feel that certain scenes were a bit over-edited. A two-shot for a dialogue doesn’t need to transition into a close-up so many times. Most of the editing was excellent, and by that I mean I didn’t notice it much; still, there were some moments that took me out of the film.
Wildhood is a quiet and beautiful film that captures the power of culture, heritage, and identity. It also effectively uses a multitude of genres to add pacing and tension to what could have been a languid film experience. More than anything else, Wildhood is a film that tells us that the journey really is just as important as one’s destination.