SGaawaay K‘uuna, or Edge of the Knife in English, is the first movie where characters speak Haida. Haida only has 14 native speakers, which makes it a critically endangered language. It’s admirable, then, that the actors spent time with some of its fluent speakers. They did everything they could to add to the authenticity of the film’s 19th century setting. But some of the line readings still feel like actors reading Shakespearean English or Latin. Thankfully, some scenes don’t require the actors to speak, specifically its lead actor Tyler York who plays Adiits’ii. After an accident, he retreats into the forest where evil spirits take over his body, turning him into a Gaagxiid. His body will also have its share of wounds that look authentic. These scenes also require a lot from him to be physical and he outstandingly delivers. The camera follows his every dangerous move.
I’ll also give the movie the benefit of the doubt that its bleach-y cinematography is a deliberate choice. There’s a self-awareness that comes with digital film making. But shooting the film this way doesn’t transport its viewers to the time and place it’s portraying. Although it doesn’t just show us Adiits’ii’s personal struggles. It shows us the community trying to bring him back into the fold. It also shows us the couple he hurt, Kwa (William Russ) and Hlaya (Adeana Young). Both have their opposing responses to the accident. There are fantasy and magic realism elements to this unique story. Co-directors Helen Haig-Brown and Gwaii Edenshaw do their best here. But some of the elements are missing, taking that connective tissue away. This, nonetheless, is an interesting look at a community who’s experienced lifetimes and losses before Eurpean contact. And its depiction of that community reaching out has undeniable power.
- Release Date: 10/21/2018