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Celebrated film exploring modern Indigenous identity opens in Halifax

Now playing at Halifax's Park Lane Cinemas, 'Rosie' is the movie debut from Métis filmmaker Gail Maurice — based on her own acclaimed short film of the same name
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A scene from 'Rosie', a film by writer and director Gail Maurice

Coming off a successful sold out run at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as well as an Audience Award-winning turn at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, the new film Rosie has arrived to entertain Halifax audiences.

Now playing at Cineplex Park Lane Cinemas, Gail Maurice’s debut feature film tells the story of a young, orphaned Indigenous girl who is forced to live with her street-smart Aunty Frédérique (played by Mélanie Bray).

Set in 1984, Frédérique loses her job at a sex shop, gets threatened with eviction and reluctantly takes the title character (played by six-year-old Keris Hope Hill) into her fringe society where she creates art from discarded trash and her two best friends defy the restrictions of gender.

In the end, Rosie winds up being transformative for the group of outcasts. As TIFF international programmer Kelly Boutsalis wrote, “Rosie is an ode to finding your chosen family when your blood relations have been removed from the family.”

“I wrote it as a short in 2017 in Montreal,” says Maurice, explaining that she soon was funded to develop the film into a full-length movie. “So I took a year to develop it and I also took that opportunity to be able to expand further on Rosie’s back-story with her mom being part of the Sixties Scoop.”

A period when a series of policies were created in Canada that enabled child welfare authorities to “scoop” up Indigenous children to place in foster homes, the Sixties Scoop became the backdrop for Rosie, the feature film.

“I wanted to tell the story about how these children are taken away and put in an environment that is completely alien to them,” adds the Cree/Métis filmmaker originally from Northern Saskatchewan. “In Rosie’s case, she’s put in a place where she doesn’t look like the people, she doesn’t understand their language and they speak differently, the signage is different — everything.”

However in the movie, Rosie not only thrives in this new environment, the young girl ends up changing the lives of those around her — providing a hopeful take to the shadowy story of the Sixties Scoop.

“We can still tell stories, laugh and joke even though our hearts are breaking,” notes Maurice. “It’s true what they say that laughter is the best medicine because at the end of the day, there’s always tomorrow so that is why I wanted to make a film about hope as well.”

It is that desire to tell a positive Indigenous story that also helps to set Rosie apart.

Before Maurice was given the helm to make the motion picture, she spent many years in front of the camera auditioning and acting, landing roles in such television series as Diggstown and Cardinal.  

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Métis talent.

“Twenty years ago when I was acting, I was auditioning for all these stereotypical roles and I had enough. They weren’t showing my perspective as an Indigenous woman so I thought, I’m going to tell my own stories and direct my own stories.”

As a result, Maurice began writing and eventually created nine short films under her company Assini Productions that have earned awards, been featured at international film festivals like Sundance and played on such television networks as APTN and even at the Smithsonian Institute.

Having received the Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award for excellence in the arts and the esteemed Chalmers Arts Fellowship, it would seem that Maurice’s passion for telling powerful, hope-filled Indigenous stories is paying off.

“It’s the way to make change,” says Maurice. “If you want change then you have to be the change that you want to see.”

Rosie is now playing at Cineplex Park Lane Cinemas in Halifax.

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