Beans Director Tracey Deer on Confronting the Past Through Film

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“I don’t know that I would describe myself as brave back then,” explains Beans director Tracey Deer. “But the character needed to be really brave.”

Beans, this year’s Canadian Screen Award winner for Best Picture, tells a powerful coming-of-age story inspired by Deer’s own awakening during the 1990 Oka Crisis at Kanehsatake. The film sees the 78-day standoff through the eyes of 13-year-old Beans, played by Kiawentiio, as her view of the world transforms as her Mohawk community encounters racism and violence after they erect a blockade at the Mercier Bridge in response to the settler community’s plans to build a golf course on a sacred burial ground. Kiawentiio handles the complex role with remarkable emotional intelligence and agility. Before Beans, the actress broke ground as Ka’kwet on the hit series Anne with an E. Deer also served as a director on the series and saw in Kiawentiio the spirit needed for bringing her own story to screen.

“During the creation process of this film from writing to filming, I was always connecting back to younger Tracey to remember what it like was to be that age,” explains Deer. “What was it like coming of age? How did it make me feel? There were certain qualities that I wanted to find in an actress.” Deer admits there were some challenges to casting a variation of her younger self—Beans’ Mohawk name, Tekahentakwa, is Deer’s middle name—but explains that looking past an actor’s limited experience allows a filmmaker to see traits they share with the character. “When you’re casting, it’s good to try to pair the character with some of the actor’s natural qualities. Kiawentiio is an artist through and through. She’s sensitive, thoughtful and very brave.”

Read the full interview from Pat Mullen: