There’s a hallowed tradition of movies about making movies. And there’s sweet sub-genre in which the moviemakers are kids. Recall young Will Poulter (no longer so young, and with a starring role in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ) making his own action flick in 2007’s Son of Rambow . Or the more-slick, not-as-fun, Spielberg-produced, Abrams-directed Super 8 from 2011.
Much of the appeal of these movies has to do with the lo-fi, low-budget charm of the film within the film. And they don’t get much lower than First Space-tions , the science-fiction epic being made by 16-year-old Tyler (William Magnus Lulua) at the beginning of Portraits From a Fire .
Described (by its creator) as “A Space Odyssey of blockbuster proportions IN SPACE,” and given (also by its creator) 16 thumbs up, First Space-tions is truly a one-man show, with Tyler performing as producer, director, cinematographer, editor, lead actor and the voices of all the secondary characters, who are cardboard cutouts.
Alas, the world premiere is a bust. When the audience is informed that this isn’t the community’s weekly Bingo night, almost half of them walk out. That leaves three people.
Portraits From a Fire is the feature film debut of Trevor Mack, a writer/director from the Tsilhqot’in Nation in central British Columbia. It was shot on the reservation, and while mostly in English it features snippets of the Tsilhqotʼin language, particularly from the group’s elders.
Tyler is desperate to connect with people, but he doesn’t have many opportunities. He’s an only child, and his mother died long ago in a tragedy no one will discuss with him, while his father (Nathaniel Arcand), still consumed by grief, throws himself into his work. Tyler’s grandparents do most of the parenting. (Sammy Stump, a non-professional actor playing his grandfather, has a super, natural flair for comic relief.)
You may think you know where things are going when an older teen named Aaron (Asivak Koostachin) shows up and convinces Tyler to make a more personal movie, but the plot takes some unexpected turns, not least when the boy finds a cache of videos made by his parents long ago, and edits them into a kind of Stories We Tell narrative, called My Mother and Me . And the revelation about Aaron’s place in Tyler’s history came as a genuine surprise.
Portraits from a Fire boasts some superb production values in the larger film, but wrapped around a simple, heartfelt tale that is clearly close to the heart of its 29-year-old director. Tyler may mispronounce the name of the French film festival as “Khan-ness,” but Mack surely knows how to say it. And I wouldn’t be surprised to run into him there one day.
Portraits From a Fire is available Nov. 9 on demand.
3.5 stars out of 5