Andrew Martin in Fire Song (Wolfe Video)

Andrew Martin in Fire Song (Wolfe Video)

The first feature film from writer-director Adam Garnet Jones focuses on a Northern Ontario Aboriginal community in the wake of a teen suicide. Shane’s sister, Destiny, has taken her life, and Shane and Destiny’s mother, Jackie (Jennifer Podemski), has since cut herself off from the world by quitting her job and never leaving their house. Now Shane has to step up and take care of the household. He was bound for college in Toronto, but problems keep racking up: the house needs a new roof, his mother refuses to work, and he needs $10,000 for tuition.

The community is terribly impoverished. Seemingly everyone lives in trailer homes or dilapidated housing. Most of Shane’s peers are directionless, resorting to drinking too much or taking too many drugs. Destiny’s suicide, we find out, was not an aberration, as suicide is a major threat in this Anishnaabe town. As one character puts it, “People kill themselves all the time. Nobody cares until they’re dead.” Within its dreary setting, Fire Song effectively sets up the conflict of youth growing up in a poor community: whether to remain or move away. Both choices lead to uncertain futures. Being gay adds just a tinge more complexity to the choice.

It takes the film quite a bit of time to establish that Shane is gay. He tries to pass for straight by dating Tara (Mary Galloway), who wants their relationship to become more physical than he is willing to go. One of the film’s most commendable choices is introducing Shane to the audience in the same way he wants the world to see him. After a while, it is revealed that he has his boyfriend on the side, David (Harley Legarde), who is also closeted, although his peers have already pegged him as gay. Shane wants David to move with him to Toronto, where they would have access to LGBTQA and Native resources, as David has a calling to be a medicine man. For Shane, running away means freedom to come out. For David, staying means he would use his skills to make the community a better place but at the loss of having to remain closeted.

Shane turns to selling drugs, which he proves to be very bad at, so the two must come up with another plan to make money. But how? Fire Song well illustrates that while the choice to remain or move away may seem like a no-brainer, coming up with the resources to get away is a colossal undertaking that can easily leave one dispirited.

Low budget as it is, Fire Song features some amateurish performances that will no doubt turn some viewers away. However, Adam Martin, as Shane, and Podemski stand out. Many of the others, though, do not pull their weight, with the exception of Brendt Diabo, who plays the popular Kyle, the main source of the homophobic taunts against David.

The homosexuality depicted here is actually quite muted. The film addresses the community’s disapproval of homosexuality, but as many times as you see Shane and Tara kiss, or Kyle making out with young women, whenever Shane and David are together, the actors come across as reluctant. If the two main leads cannot commit to the love story, how are we supposed to?

Written and Directed by Adam Garnet Jones
Released by Wolfe Video
Canada. 96 min. Not rated
With Andrew Martin, Mary Galloway, Harley Legarde, Jennifer Podemski, and Brendt Diabo