Based on true events, Tracey Deer’s debut feature “Beans” explores the 78-day standoff between Mohawk land defenders and government forces in 1990 in Quebec, which Deer lived through as a child. The film is seen through the eyes of Tekehentahkhwa (nicknamed Beans), a young Mohawk girl whose perspective on life is changed by these events.
“This project goes back a long way for me. I was Beans. I was 12 years old when I lived through an armed stand-off between my people and the Quebec and Canadian governments known as The Oka Crisis,” Deer told EMAfilms. “The Mohawk Nation of Kanesatake and Kahnawà:ke stood up to a formidable bully — and won. That summer I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker and vowed to one day tell this story.”
The film premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and was the second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award. It was also featured at the 2021 New York Children’s International Film Festival in March 2021, among other festivals. The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture at the 9th Canadian Screen Awards in 2021, along with the John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award.
The film was showing recently at Princess Cinemas in Waterloo, Ont., and is being screened at Apollo Cinema in Kitchener, Ont., on August 26. After the screening at Apollo Cinema, there will be a short conversation with Amy Smoke and Shawn Johnston, co-founders of O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as Land Back Camp.
Deer said Canadians did not experience that summer in 1990 the same way she and her people did.
“The media painted us as terrorists. Our neighbours attacked us. Our basic human rights were violated. And instead of offering protection, the provincial police and Canadian army aimed their weapons at us. Sound familiar? Thirty years later, these same scenes are playing out across our television screens as people stand up for racial and social justice across North America. They too are being met with violence, instead of support,” said Deer, adding that with this film, she wants Canadians and audiences around the world to experience what it was like to be in the crosshairs of so much hate and anger, and the destructive impact it had on her and her people.
Saharla Ugas from the TIFF Next Wave Committee said the film is a refreshing look at the lives of Indigenous youth and families told with heartbreaking honesty.
“The film brings awareness to the oppression and discrimination Indigenous people continue to face 30 years later,” she said. “While the ongoing standoff forces her to grow up faster than she deserves, 12-year-old Beans (played by Kiawentiio) is bright and brave as she cares for her younger sister and discovers herself and her place in the community. Timely and touching, Beans is a powerful reminder of the resilience, beauty, and love Indigenous communities hold.”
Deer said she tells stories because she wants her people to thrive, not merely survive.
“I felt invisible and unimportant, so to give voice to our experiences, thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears through character-based storytelling is my way to reclaim my worth, honour my people and celebrate our resilience. I want our children to grow up confident that they are safe in this country — and that their lives and dreams are important. For that to happen, Canadians need to step up. I made this film to inspire them to open their hearts and head back into their everyday lives as allies of Indigenous people. We need their friendship, support and action for society to change for the better.”