Update May 15, 2020: The premiere of Red Snow was cancelled due to COVID-19, but it is now available online on Apple TV.
There’s a very old, very wrong belief that Indigenous peoples in Northern Canada have 10, 000 words for snow. This myth is one of the subjects tackled in Métis filmmaker Marie Clements’ debut dramatic film, Red Snow. From scribbles to screen, the film took a decade to make—but it was time that this unique project required.
Red Snow has been shared with small audiences at film festivals (it snagged the Best Screenwriter, Best Director, and Best Production awards at last weekend’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival) but the official national premiere is this Friday, March 13th. “I think it’s always a big moment for a filmmaker when a film gets released nationally,” says Clements, who grew up in North Vancouver. “I’m excited about that, plus it’s in my hometown—so it’s a big deal in that way.”
Clements first got the idea for Red Snow in 2009, when she came across a photo essay of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. “I was really fascinated by the pictures of the Indigenous people [in Afghanistan], and how at certain angles, they looked like Indigenous people here,” says Clements. “So it got me thinking about these two ancient cultures that had survived so many horrors, and thinking about what, if they were put face to face, what kinds of things they would have in common.”
Red Snow follows Dylan, a Gwich'in soldier from the Canadian Arctic who is fighting in Afghanistan.(You can watch the trailer here.) After being betrayed by his translator, Dylan is captured by the Taliban and held hostage. “He uses his history and his cultural identity to help him survive,” says Clements. Flashbacks of family, unlikely friends, and different types of (and words for) snow support Dylan throughout his escape.
Clements says she actually wrote the first script for Red Snow very quickly—the photo essay sparked something in her, and she hammered out a draft in record time. But after that rough draft, extra care was taken to ensure that the story was told the right way. The film’s script is in four different languages (Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, Pashto and English) and Clements worked alongside translators and cultural speakers to workshop dialogue that was thoughtful and honest. Fundraising had to be done to get the production on its feet, and the production itself was shot in remote locations (the Northwest Territories and the interior of B.C.) in extreme weather conditions.
Though this is her first dramatic theatrical premier, Clements has written many plays and documentaries. All of her work explores the experiences and relationships of diverse people. “I’m interested in how history has impacted our present reality, and how Indigenous peoples and culturally diverse peoples are a part of a bigger world,” she says.
Red Snow premieres on Friday, March 13th at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas—find tickets here.