On November 10, the film Maina and lead actress Roseanne Supernault had a big night, taking Best Picture and Best Actress awards at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. (Tantoo Cardinal, who is also in the movie, received Best Supporting Actress honors.) Set in the arctic north of Turtle Island before European contact, the film tells the story of an Innu woman who embarks on a quest into rival Inuit territory to fulfill a promise. Prior to the awards ceremony, Supernault spoke with ICTMN about the role and the challenges of making the film.
This is an unusual movie, even within Native cinema, as it takes place before contact with Europeans. What sort of feelings did you have about filming a story set 600 years ago?
I felt excited at the premise of doing a story set pre-contact, because there's nothing like breaking new ground. It's time we have a film that gives mainstream society an eye into what it was like before non-Native people appeared on Turtle Island. I think it will register with a variety of filmgoers. What's scary and challenging is aiming to be historically and culturally accurate. Thankfully, we had the novel, Maina, to source from, because the author did some deep research on the Innu and Inuit people. It's also very helpful having cultural advisers on set.
How were you able to relate to your character, Maina?
Maina also has a regal sensibility about her; she fights for what she believes in, she has an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles, and she puts much faith into the Great Mystery—those are things that I'm on level with. She becomes a woman through the course of the film. And in many ways, I feel that I did too. There is so much that I went through personally and professionally throughout this production. I feel like a completely different person now!
What was it like filming on location, in arctic conditions?
Tough. Cold. Wicked. But through that freezing temperature many friendships and bonds were forged—because no one understands your freezing snotty nose better than the person freezing their buns off next to you! I couldn't have done it without my amazing fellow cast mates and the crew!
In cinema, from the age of racist Hollywood westerns even up to now, Indian tribal affiliations are usually not a focus — what matters about a Native character is that they are Native, not necessarily Mohawk, Navajo, Cree, etc. And this comes from (and reinforces) the mainstream's view of Native culture as monolithic. Do you have any thoughts on making a film that actually differentiates between groups that are usually simply lumped together?
Being on the set of Maina actually showed me how incredibly diverse our nations are. It’s always a challenge as a traditional First Nations person to be in this industry. On one hand, you’ve got Native people advocating for cultural advisory and demanding that real Native actors be hired, so production agrees and goes along with it; but on the other hand, once you actually get on set, you’re contending amongst one another as Native people on what should and shouldn’t be shown or done and debating cultural protocol, etc, then it really occurs to you how immensely unique each nation is in their set beliefs—which is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s beauty to that. Anyone who thinks the First Nations are a monolithic people is sadly mistaken.
What was it like working with Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal?
They are truly old hat at this thing, and I've learned so much from both of them. Tantoo just has this immense spirit; she's my mentor, friend, and aunt, and most importantly, she gives me a good kick in the ass when I need it. Graham was very much this auspicious figure on set—he's incredibly hands on and a true actor in the sense of collaboration. They both also know how to leave me breathless with laughter, which is great when you're filming 12 hour days!