When I was asked to do a review of the film, Kayak to Klemtu, I began by looking at the synopsis used to market the film. I read that its story was about the waterways in British Columbia, specifically the inland passageway in the Great Bear Rainforest, and how it would be seriously threatened by oil tanker traffic navigating the waters to get to the open ocean.
I was anticipating or hoping for a gritty piece of filmmaking showing the protagonists, those who argued against the oil tanker traffic, and the antagonists, those who argued for the tankers to reach the ocean. What I found was a film about a somewhat dysfunctional family facing the loss of a father/ brother/husband.
The film is driven by a 14-year-old girl, Ta'kaiya Blaney, who leads her family on a journey in kayaks from Tla'amin Nation to Klemtu through the Great Bear Rainforest. Her motivation is to fulfill a promise to her late father that she will go to Klemtu and testify against the oil tankers.
Director and writer Zoe Leigh Hopkins, who is Canadian Heiltsuk and Mohawk, had a noble vision to tell the story of the oil tankers through the eyes of a family grieving its loss of a father figure, Dave, also known as Uncle Bear.
The characters and their relationships with each other were interesting but lacked development and took little risk in challenging each other’s emotions. I couldn't help thinking about the film Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and how its dysfunctional family, through their interactions with each other, their fights and laughter, came together to fight the establishment and support each other. Hopkins creates the family with their dysfunctions but seems torn between dealing with their personal problems and telling the story of the fight over the oil tankers.
An element I enjoyed about the film was the British Columbia scenery of mountains, oceans and wildlife including seals, whales and a spirit bear. The beauty of the kayaks floating through the passages was stunning, picturesque and gave a real sense of the beauty the land holds.
The production quality, especially the photography and the music is to be commended.
Most interesting for me was the acting performance of Blaney, who was compelling and charismatic. Her expressions of emotions were real and transparent. Her performance portrayed grief and seriousness, humour and laughter.
Kudos to the director for bringing out the best in Blaney. I look forward to seeing where the young actor takes her career. For this reason I would recommend this film with a three out five tugboats.
Kayak to Klemtu will be showing on Wednesday, September 19, and Thursday, September 20, at the Patricia Theatre.
Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.