A new short film that focuses on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been unveiled – with a supernatural twist.
Kwêskosîw (She Whistles) tells the story of a two-spirit woman on the way to her girlfriend’s place after a night out, who ends up being assaulted by her cab driver.
The film shines a light on the violence and discrimination many Indigenous women face.
“They hopefully understand that the part of the movie that’s not a fantasy is the beginning, the way that the woman in the vehicle is treated by the cab driver,” said Sera-Lys McArthur, who plays the main character in the film.
“That’s a position that women put themselves in every day and it’s not something that’s looked on as a bad move. You’re supposed to take a cab home you know, but that’s not always safe.”
The thriller incorporates a mysterious element through the spiritual power of the northern lights.
In some Indigenous cultures it is believed whistling at the northern lights signals the ancestors to come and take you away.
In the film, the character whistles at the northern lights in desperation and discovers a supernatural power that ends up saving her.
“So in Nêhiyaw (Cree) culture you’re not supposed to; like you get told by aunties and grammas and everyone not to whistle at the northern lights because they’ll come down and take you away,” said film director and writer Thirza Cuthand.
“In this version, they don’t take you away. It was kind of like her last-ditch attempt to escape and, in a way, she’s given a power to help. So, yeah, we kind of fictionalized what they actually say about the northern lights but that’s where it comes from.”
Written, directed by and starring Indigenous women, McArthur said it was important to have the character save herself.
“We want to, at least, explore the idea that we could have some retribution,” she said, “and what would happen if you could save yourself from the situation and save others from going through it as well.”
Cuthand is from Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan and McArthur from Pheasant Rump First Nation in Saskatchewan.
The film is produced by Fanning Feathers Productions, a company owned by McArthur.
Both said a feature film on the same subject is in the works but still in the very early stages.
The film’s world premiere was at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival in New Zealand where it won the Mana Advancement of Indigenous Rights Award, and more recently premiered at the LGBTQ2S+ film festival Outfest L.A.
Kwêskosîw also won the Short Subject Golden Sheaf Award at this year’s Yorkton Film Festival.