By Athena Yuan
The first feature film to be spoken entirely in the Haida language, Edge of the Knife (Sgaaway K'uuna), premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
The story is based on popular Haida legend, Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid(Wildman). It’s about two families who gather together for their annual fishing camp, before winter in Haida Gwaii-Canada's Pacific Northwest. A man, Adiits'ii (Tyler York), flees into a forest and transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid(Wildman) after experiencing a sad tragedy.
The film intentionally uses lots of shaky shots to guide the audience through the mysterious rainforests in Haida Gwaii, while Adiits'ii hunted in the woods. Viewers literally hear people screaming, when a close-up shot suddenly captures Adiits'ii’s face. It’s impressive to see that the camera creates a kind of documentary feel, to show how the twist of supernatural forces and human nature transform a man into an “animal”.
Edge of the Knife is co-directed by Haida director Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, who is from the Yunesit’in community of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
“This movie is a sort of an initiation ceremony,” says Edenshaw after the film’s screening at TIFF. Haida language is an endangered language that has only about 20 fluent speakers left. “We work closely with surviving elders to push through different concepts in Haida language” Edenshaw says, and they ensured everything from the language to the clothing was an accurate reflection of Haida life.
Despite the authentic Haida culture, what impressed me the most is Tyler York’s performance to be a Gaagiid, or Wildman. He invites the audience to feel the wildness in his human body. You can tell when the madness emerges through his eyes, and how badly he suffers from grief when he unconsciously mumbles.
Watch the Q&A with the Cast and Crew of Edge of the Knife here:
© TIFF Talks | YouTube
“What I hope this movie can do is maybe bring light to the fact that we aren't a dying race,” Tyler says in an interview.
At the end of the movie, Adiits'ii goes back to his community and his family to help him restore his humanity through an ancient, mysterious ceremony.