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Exploring universal story of teenaged isolation through eyes of Far North youth

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The Lesser Blessed, a story of teenage angst and seclusion told from the perspective of one young First Nations man, was the closing gala at the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

The film combines a universal story about feeling like an outsider with the unique tale of a young man who has to overcome much hardship in his young life.

Based on the novel of the same name by Dene author Richard Van Camp, the story is set in Canada's Northwest Territories and follows a Tlicho teenager, Larry Sole, through some of his high school experiences.

The Lesser Blessed is written and directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Anita Doron and has a mostly Canadian cast including Chloe Rose (Degrassi), Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga), Benjamin Bratt, Tamara Podemski as Verna Sole and Joel Evans as Larry Sole.

The film was shot in Sudbury, in part because of the lack of government incentives for movie-making in the Northwest Territories. But it still manages to cinematically capture the feelings of social, cultural and geographical isolation of the original novel.

"I feel like Anita totally captured that —what it's like to be in the middle of nowhere, so far away from everybody — that it's both in a geographic sense and in the social sense of being an outsider," says Tamara Podemski who plays Larry Sole's mother.

"He was a boy who couldn't be more different. But he's not so different because he's Indian, he's different because he's traumatized, and that's the beautiful part about the story."

Podemski has had to face her own challenges as a native actor.

"I've never only been put out for native roles, but I only get cast in native roles. I can't say that it's been a bad thing," she says.

"I've often been told 'It's so interesting that you have only done native roles, or have chosen to do native roles.' And they don't understand that it's not a choice. We (native actors) are told where we can be seen, how we can be seen, and who we can be seen with on the screen."

"It takes courageous producers filmmakers, writers, to fight for their stories to be told," says Podemski.

It seemed to be a great feat to get this indie film made – taking seven years from the time it was a figment of the imagination of director and screenwriter Doron. Van Camp, the novel's author, worked with Doron from the beginning, even opening up his home to her so she could capture the feel of the N.W.T.

The Lesser Blessed is most certainly a First Nations story about a young man's struggle for identity and healing, but it's also a story that is universally felt. And that is what makes this film beautiful, that we can all relate no matter what colour of skin we have.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.