While the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is filled with movies from massive studios with internationally renowned stars, the beauty of the festival is that there are also films that tell specific Canadians stories, like Gail Maurice’s bilingual film Rosie.
Rosie is set in Montreal in 1984 and told from the perspective of young, orphaned Indigenous girl Rosie (Keris Hope Hill), who ends up having to live with her Francophone aunt Frédèrique “Fred” (Mélanie Bray). Fred isn’t really in any position to take care of a child, regularly on the verge of being evicted from her apartment and jobless, making art from items thrown in the trash. Fred, with the support of her two gender-bending friends Flo (Constant Bernard) and Mo (Alex Trahan), navigate this new responsibility, while Rosie manages being thrusted into this new community.
'I didn't realize that this whole other world existed'
The movie started as a short film, which Gail Maurice initially wrote in when she was at Mélanie Bray’s family home, after Bray’s father passed away.
“He built this little office space in a closet and I locked myself in there for three days,” Maurice told Yahoo Canada. “I whipped out the short and I really felt her dad's spirit and energy when I was writing it.”
“I was pretty amazed when she actually came out of the closet, she had this short film,” Bray added. “Even from the first draft, it was just a great script and I’m very flattered that she wrote a part for me, and it was a great part.”
Bray went on to recall that Maurice was initially hesitant about developing this short project into a feature, and it was actually Bray herself who convinced the Rosie writer/director to do it.
“When you think something's done, like the short, we were supposed to be done,” Maurice explained. “Then all of a sudden, OK, so what happens now?”
“That's when I brought in the ‘80s, the soundtrack and all the dynamics. I was able to develop more of the backstory for Rosie, the Sixties Scoop… After I got annoyed with [Mélanie Bray], then I really, I loved it, and I love those characters.”
While logistically, setting the story in the 1980s make sense in the way it references the impact of the Sixties Scoop, it also adds attractive colour to the film.
“I wrote it always with the ‘80s in mind,” Maurice explained. “That, to me, is a time when I left home and I went to university, and I was coming out and I didn't realize that this whole other world existed, like the queer community, the gay community.”
“In Saskatoon in the ‘80s, you had to go down this back alley and open a door, it was really secretive. I opened the door and all of a sudden, there's this… energy that just filled me and filled my spirit… My eyes opened to this whole new world, the colour, the vibrancy, I wanted to bring all that into Rosie, and how I did it was through the music, because music has that ability to transport us back in time to an immediate place. But also, the saturated colours, I wanted it to show how vibrant the characters are.”
Importance of making a bilingual film
Gail Maurice also explained that she wanted the story to be told through a child’s perspective because, “they don’t have filters" and "they don’t judge.”
An interesting character that isn’t featured heavily in the film, but when he is present he is critically important, is Brandon Oakes as Jigger, a homeless Cree man who is Rosie’s connection to her Indigenous heritage.
“I wanted her to be put into a space where she's really alienated and isolated, and it's completely foreign,” Maurice explained, adding that it’s also meant to symbolize the effects of the Sixties Scoop, and the loss of identity and family. “I bought in Jigger because…he to me represents being grounded, which is why I shoot him a lot on the ground,...he's the strongest out of all the characters, he has a calmness about him.”
“But he also has his culture, that's where his strength comes from… He's also the one that's going to pass on knowledge to [Rosie] about her culture."
Maurice doesn’t actually speak French herself, but the decision to have the dialogue in both French in English is linked to her upbringing speaking Michif (one of the languages of the Métis people of Canada and the United States), along with English.
“[It] was really interesting directing a language that I don't understand, but I wanted to do a bilingual film because much of my language has a mixture of Cree and French, and my culture is a mixture of Cree and French,...there's only a little over 1,000 speakers in the world, and I’m one of them,” Maurice said. “As far as showing different cultures [in film], I think it's happening, if you look, slowly.”
Bray added that from a bilingual perspective, we just aren’t getting content that actually blends the two languages, even though that’s the cultural reality for many Canadians.
“I grew up in Montreal with a Francophone mom and an Anglophone dad so it's exactly that, and why isn't there more like this?" Bray added. "But I'm actually surprised that there hasn't been more that's totally bilingual.”
“From an English-French perspective, that it's not happening... I think we're doing something groundbreaking."