VIFF Review: Sgaaway K'uuna uses a classic Haida legend to discuss modern issues

Sgaaway K'uuna (Edge of the Knife) directed by Helen Haig Brown and Gwaii Edenshaw is a feature film that follows the effects of a fatal accident on the shores of Haida Gwaii in the 19th century. Adiits’ ii, played by Tyler York, is plagued with survivor’s guilt after the incident and banishes himself to the woods. There, in solitude, he endures intense physical and emotional suffering which transform him into the Gaagiixid, or Wildman.

Although the story is a classic Haida legend, the feelings and experiences felt by the characters are important in the modern context. The film unravels the implications of pain within a community, as peaceful characters begin to express anger and violence. This particular theme seems timely in the midst of North America’s turbulent political and cultural affairs. The film also illustrates the dangerous effects of combining isolation and mental suffering, as experienced by Adiits’ ii. His struggle acts as a precautionary tale, if not a reflection on mental health issues in our society.

With such riveting moments, it is easy to forget that a primary goal of the film is education. Sgaaway K'uuna is saturated with cultural information. Any screen time featuring construction, weaving and use of tools gives audiences a taste of the Haida’s remarkable innovations, technologies and craft. Longhouses, traditional boxes, jewelry and fashion contribute to the stunning aesthetic of the film. This is also the first-ever feature length film produced entirely within the Haida language.

Sgaaway K'uuna allows viewers to better visualize British Columbia as a place belonging to a much longer history, and is showing at the Vancouver International Film Festival from October 3 to 5.