Actress Grace Dove, who was raised in Prince George and is best known for her 2015 role in The Revenant opposite Leonardo DeCaprio, is starring in Monkey Beach a film local residents can see at Cineplex Theatre starting Friday.
The film recently premiered on the opening night of the Vancouver International Film Festival and that's when Cineplex approached the filmmaking team to invite Monkey Beach to their lineup.
Dove, who is a member of the Tsq'escenemc First Nation in Canim Lake, near 100 Mile House, attended Kelly Road Secondary School where she was in the drama department.
Since then she moved to Vancouver and then Los Angeles to pursue her dream of acting.
Monkey Beach is the long-awaited film adaptation of Eden Robinson's award-winning novel directed by Loretta S. Todd.
Dove who knows and admires both of these Indigenous women said she was thrilled when she was approached to take the lead in the film that was set in the forests and waterways of the Pacific Northwest and the Haisla village.
"Monkey Beach is a huge moment for not only my career but for Indigenous cinema and story telling," Dove said during a recent phone interview.
As Monkey Beach was written, directed and stars Indigenous women, Dove said that's a huge step forward in proper representation in the entertainment industry.
"I am just so honoured to be a part of it," Dove said.
Dove has known director Loretta S. Todd for years and considers her a mentor. Todd has been working on getting Monkey Beach produced for the last 20 years and when it all came together, Dove was thrilled to be part of it, she said.
"This role and this movie have completely changed my life," Dove said. "I feel like I've been working my whole life for a moment like this."
It was especially meaningful for Dove to be on the traditional territory of the Haisla people, she added.
"Loretta really pushed for that," Dove said. "She made sure that we filmed there because that's where the magic is - out on the water - out on the land - and we got to meet the people and it felt very special."
Dove said there are a lot of things wrong in the entertainment industry when it comes to Indigenous representation.
"I feel like so many times we are still tokens and there are stories about us but not told by us and I really believe that the work that I'm doing as an actor is so important when it comes to how people see us in real life," Dove said. "So being able to tell a story about resilience and strength while there's still layers of trauma and still the realities of what we are facing as Indigenous peoples since colonization but the story is so much more than that. It's about a young woman finding her power and reconnecting with her culture and the strength of her family."
Dove is hoping her role in the movie will give youth someone to look up to, she added.
"I want people to see a strong Indigenous person on screen and know that can be them, too," Dove said.
When Dove heard Cineplex offered space in their theatres to showcase Monkey Beach, she was so happy.
"When we are given the power to tell our own stories and when we are in control of our own representation then we can create something like Monkey Beach, which I think is relatable to people of all walks of life - Indigenous and non-Indigenous," Dove said. "I think it's a great tool for educating because now people like those from Prince George can go and enjoy this movie and hopefully come out of it more curious and wanting to learn about Indigenous peoples and I think it's going to help bridge that gap and show us in a way that we haven't been shown before."
During such an intense time as filming a barrier-breaking movie, there's bound to be moments that make it that much more memorable for those involved.
"It was a very emotional journey for me," Dove said. "I think that's a big reason I feel so transformed. It was very healing for me and when you watch the movie you'll see there's a lot of emotional moments that hit really close to home for me so I feel I came out of this experience a new person."
There is one incident that specifically stands out for Dove. She had a close encounter with one of nature's greatest beasts.
"One day I'm getting sent out on the water," Dove said. She had no experience driving a boat and so after a quick lesson she spent many days out on the water speeding along in a small boat.
"It was so much fun," Dove said.
One day she saw something in the water she will never forget.
"I saw this whale pop up out of the ocean right next to the boat," Dove said. "It was just me and our stunt driver and he was a local and he said the whale was coming just for me. It popped its tail up and it was this massive tail right beside me, in front of the mountains, with the sunset behind it and I immediately just teared right up and I was filled with so much emotion because it was just so beautiful but also I just felt like it was a sign that I was on the right path and I felt like it was welcoming me and it was telling me that I was there in a good way. It is an image I will remember forever."
This is a really important time for Indigenous people to share their light, Dove said.
"I hope everyone in Prince George will go to the movie with an open heart and see us in a new way and be interesting in learning the true history of Canada and maybe be more curious and want to learn more about our heritage and learn that there is more to us than the trauma and the struggle," Dove said. "We are beautiful and resilient people and we have so many stories to share. Going to this movie will tell Cineplex and Hollywood that the world is ready to see more of us."
Monkey Beach was produced by Reunion Pacific Entertainment and Mamaoo Productions on location in Kitimat and features Tina Lameman (Mixed Blessings), Sera-Lys McArthur (Outlander), Stefany Mathias (Longmire), Glen Gould (Cardinal), Ta'kaiya Blaney (Kayak to Klemtu), Nick Dangeli, Zoey Snow, Oliver Tru Sison, Miika Bryce Whiskeyjack (Red Snow) and Sam Bob.
The film is also screening digitally this month at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (Oct. 22nd), the Santa Fe Film Festival, the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Portland Film Festival The film will open the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco and has been nominated for awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor.
Monkey Beach was supported by Telefilm Canada, CRAVE, CBC Films, APTN, CAVCO, Canada Media Fund and Creative BC.
Monkey Beach is showing at the Prince George Cineplex Friday at 6 and 9:45 p.m., Saturday at 1:30, 4:10, 7 and 9:45 p.m., Sunday at 2, 4:40 and 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.