Review: ‘Portraits From A Fire’ comes of age through filmmaking

There are many fundamental truths in this world, and one of them is that creative people will create. Tyler (William Magnus Lulua), a boy growing up on northern BC’s Tsilhqotʼin reserve, makes films. He borrows household items from the community to use as props and screens them in a makeshift open-air cinema. When his latest film is only attended by a handful of people, many of whom then leave to go to bingo night, Tyler decides he needs to make something more personal.

The personal project is spurred by a tape he finds of himself and his mother. She is absent from his life, and he doesn’t know why. His father, Gord (Nathaniel Arcand), is present but emotionally distant. From the onset of the story, it’s clear that some trauma strains their relationship, but Gord won’t speak of it.

Nathaniel Arcand as Gord in ‘Portraits From A Fire’

Gord, a firefighter, deliberately works as much as possible and leaves much of Tyler’s raising to others, including Sammy, an elder in the community. Sammy (Sammy Stump) is Tyler’s main supporter but is also keeping things to himself. As you can imagine, Tyler is more than a little frustrated, and with the help of another boy called Aaron (Asivak Koostachin), he sets out to make his movie and explore his own history.

Sammy Stump as Sammy and William Magnus Lulua as Tyler in ‘Portraits From A Fire’

In terms of plot, there isn’t a lot in Portraits from a Fire that you won’t have seen before or won’t see coming. That’s by no means a dealbreaker, though, as the story’s execution is still brimming with imagination. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and the film is full of lovely details that build out the characters and the world (keep a sharp eye for Sammy’s laundry).

The cast is good if a little uneven. That unevenness is easily forgiven when you learn that many of the supporting roles are played by locals rather than professional actors. Nathaniel Arcand is the standout, but this only makes sense as he is the actor with the most experience under his belt. When the truth that Tyler is seeking to uncover finally comes out, Gord’s revelation is affecting and sincere.

Portraits from a Fire is also a delightfully local film. You’ll be treated to plenty of British Columbia’s scenery, as well as the Tsilhqotʼin language spoken by the indigenous peoples in the region. At its core, it’s a story of a family and community and one that is worth your time.

Portraits From A Fire played as part of the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival where it won the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award. It begins a limited engagement in theatres starting today, November 1st, 2021, and will premiere on-demand on Tuesday, November 9th, 2021.


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