• Interviews

Bretten Hannam: Welcome to the Mi’kmaq World

“Unlike other kids my age,” recalls Bretten Hannam, “I didn’t play with many toys. I would rather draw, paint and tell stories.” Then after a short pause comes a quick laugh, “I was a strange kid.” Born in Kespukwitk, Mi’kma’ki, Nova Scotia, Hannam is A Two-Spirit, non-binary member of the Mi’kmaq First Nations people in what is now known as Canada’s Atlantic Provinces who started making films at an early age to help explore both his indigenous and queer identities. Though one of the 37-year-old’s first short features, Deep End premiered in 2011 at the Atlantic Film Festival, notoriety hit with the release of North Mountain in 2015 which eventually found commercial release a few years later. But Hannam found the international spotlight when Wildhood just premiered at the 2021 edition of the Toronto Film Festival. Acknowledging what an honor it was to be sharing the film at TIFF, they consider the significance of the inclusion, especially due to the fact the film was made largely with participation and guidance from their community. The ability to share the community, language, and culture with so many people is proving to be the real victory for the filmmaker. The HFPA zoomed in and chatted with Hannam about the experience.


Throughout cinematic history, the portrayal of indigenous people has been quite lacking. What you showcase in this film is so layered and emotional. How important is it to have films like Wildhood on the big screen?

Over the past couple of decades even, there has been change in how indigenous storytellers can access funding, are supported in telling stories, and here we are lucky now to have the Indigenous Screen Office and Indigenous Funding programs that are becoming more available to people, so that first is a very important thing. That allows us to tell our stories, it allows us to have narrative sovereignty if you will, over our stories.  So, touching on that, the film is relatively young, especially in comparison to our oral traditions and oral stories, which are primary tools of language, transmission and just knowledge of transmission and entertainment. Figuring out ways that those two things come together to create something new, that’s one thing that I’m doing and I know a lot of other indigenous filmmakers are doing. 

How much did you draw on your own community?

As you said, there is this historically inaccurate portrayal of indigenous people all across Turtle Island, all across North America, across the world really in cinema. So, the community I come from is full of so many people and they are all very different but there’s a lot of life there and everything is dynamic and rich. There’s a lot of laughter, there’s a lot of love and a lot of teasing, people don’t always agree like any community, but we need the chance to see that and see that kind of unfold and open up instead of just kind of adhering to stereotypes, which are very harmful and completely untrue. So, this film is kind of undoing some of that, but then also finding a balance, dealing with some material, the topics could be heavier or harder to deal with and it’s important not to deny those but it’s also important to show a balanced perspective of our communities. 

The film starts off quite heavy with parental abuse but then shifts in tone to not only self-discovery but a sexual awakening. How important were those themes to explore?

When we begin to tell this story, we are dealing with multiple facets of identities and you can’t really parse and pick and choose one or a part of the other, you have to acknowledge different aspects of it and different sections. So, in two-spirit identity, there are many different words that are unique to nations and unique to communities. Even among those, among two-spirit people, some people don’t even like that term or don’t use that term, but there is an enormous variety of expressions, which are one of the things that makes it a very beautiful and strong thing. But in my experience and interpretation, is that identity is not only rooted in gender and sexual identity but it’s in relationship to the people, to your community, to your land, to the culture, to the animals. All of those things kind of unfold at once. If we were to neglect that, the sexual awakening and that aspect of it, it would kind of be ignoring a large part of nature that is there that is often overlooked or maybe sometimes sanitized in other ways. 

What helps tell the story is the freshness of your two lead actors. Was it essential to you to cast unknown actors?

Yeah, we cast our search quite wide. We were doing auditions over Zoom even before we were forced to do everything on Zoom with the pandemic. (laughs) People were like ‘oh that’s super weird and I was like no, it’s fine, it’s cheaper than a flight and you get an idea of what’s going on. These two guys had sent in tapes and they were both individually very good. And a film like this, it’s make or break on that chemistry right, on those bonds. So luckily, we were able to get them to do a chemistry test, not in person, they were together in person, I think if they were doing it over Zoom it would have been very, very hard to tell. But they were in person on one end of the Zoom and we were on the other end and we just ran through these scenes and it was great, all these guys are doing it without hesitation, and they are completely in the moment, like listening to each other and giving and taking from each other and building together these scenes. And it was like wow if they can do that in a chemistry test then they can do much more when they work together.