Critipeg: Jane and the Wolf

Plays Nov. 26 at Towne 8 Cinema as part of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. 

Storytelling is as much a part of family as it is culture. With each generation, stories about family members take a step away from anecdote toward legend. Tales of relatives and ancestors inform one’s being as much as food, spirituality or music.

The short documentary Jane and the Wolf uses homespun storytelling and formal ambition to explore these ancient overlaps between family history, folklore and personal mythology. Jane recalls a true family fable from narrator and co-writer Rachel Garrick about her great-grandmother and the small Cree town of Pagwa River where the family lived.

In the 1960s, when Pagwa River’s men fail to kill a wolf that’s been tormenting the town, great-grandma Jane tells the town the wolf is a spiritual message from their ancestors. To the town’s disbelief, the elderly Jane heads into the woods to kill the wolf herself, without any modern weapons.

The story is one that’s been passed on to Rachel by her mother, a residential school survivor who used family stories to reconnect with her children after overcoming alcoholism. While little time is spent on this aspect of the story, it’s there for a reason. Garrick and director Nadine Arpin understand that these hardships are woven with ancestral tales into the figurative family tapestry.

Arpin mixes new footage, archival photographs and expressionistic animation as a skillful thematic tool. The mix of different media emphasizes the ephemeral, almost mythical nature of such family tales. Like the stories, her formats blur the lines between memory, history and childlike imagination.

Published in Volume 71, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 24, 2016)

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