Filmmaker Jules Arita Koostachin draws on Cree cultural practices in Broken Angel — Stir

A WOMEN’S SHELTER is a second home to Angel, a Cree single mother fleeing a violent and emotionally vicious partner in Cree filmmaker Jules Arita Koostachin’s new feature film, Broken Angel. In this safe space on her reservation, Angel (Sera-Lys McArthur, Monkey Beach) takes part in ceremonies like smudging and circle, albeit reluctantly; empty and afraid, she feels little connection to her culture. With the support of her foster mother, who runs the shelter (Koostachin), and other Indigenous women, Angel eventually becomes more rooted in her Indigenous identity and stronger in her soul.

A member of the Attawapiskat First Nation, Koostachin made the film in honor of “all warrior Iskwewak”—women, givers of life. Deeply dedicated to InNiNeWak (Cree) storytelling, she also drew on her own experience in social services, as the former director of an emergency shelter for Indigenous women, to write the script.

“It’s still a taboo subject,” Koostachin says in a phone interview with Stir in advance of the Broken Angel‘s Western Canadian premiere at the Whistler Film Festival. “If you’re in an abusive situation, so often people say, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ It’s not that simple. I was inspired to tell an inside story. A lot of people really don’t know that world.”

Broken Angel features one of Koostachin’s four children, Asivak Koostachin (one of her twin sons, who plays Angel’s ex-boyfriend), and a cameo by her mother, a “warrior of the Canadian Residential school system”. The film was years in the making. Koostachin had the idea for it in mind when she started taking nighttime screenwriting classes after her twins were born. (They’re now 16; her other kids are 28 and 26.) She was undaunted when it came to bringing the film to life despite so many early challenges.

“I kept hearing ‘No,” Koostachin says. “At the time, we weren’t really having the #MeToo discussion and we weren’t discussing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I kept hearing things like ‘There’s no audience for it’ and ‘Women are not a big enough market.’ There were a lot of barriers. I finally thought ‘I’ve got to make this friggin’ film!’ I just kept going because it’s a really important story.

“As a woman, you kind of get used to hearing ‘No’, so you find ways to go over, under, around—you get resourceful,” she adds. “We just do what we have to do to create.”

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