Hank Williams First Nation

Hank hums with tuneful tale of Cree lives

Starring Gordon Tootoosis and Stacy Da Silva. Rated G. Opens Friday, July 15, at the Park Theatre

A rarely glimpsed way of life is captured on-screen in Hank Williams First Nation, a poignant and witty look at day-to-day business on a Cree Native reserve in northern Alberta.

In this low-budget, large-hearted effort, first-time writer-director Aaron James Sorensen uses an enjoyable road adventure as a means to examine the lives of people who may not ever get away from home. Veteran Gordon Tootoosis plays Adelard Fox, a savvy businessman who gets the idea of sending his nephew Jacob (Colin Van Loon) to Nashville with Adelard's speech-impaired older brother, Martin (Jimmy Herman), because of the latter's alleged fixation on Hank Williams-even if that's something the old man doesn't actually seem to care much about.

Whatever the reason for the trip, it's an excuse for the reserve-bound elders to demand that Jacob write one letter a day home, and the lad's folksy observations demonstrate Sorensen's ability to create varied voices, even for such a homogenous community, and to make his characters sound believable even when the words are perhaps slightly beyond their experience and the limitations of the neophyte actors.

He gets winning performances out of Stacy Da Silva, Jacob's sensitive sister who is going through the usual boy trouble in high school, and Bernard Starlight as Huey Bigstone, a fast talker more adept at getting by than attending school. Stephanie Dixon fares a little less well as the kindhearted white teacher who takes genuine interest in the lives of her students-but that's mainly because her background is hinted at but not developed.

The tale itself only goes so far, coming to a halt before the travellers can get to their destination. (Everything here was filmed in Alberta, except for a bit of cross-border shooting.) And there's never any actual Hank Williams heard in the movie; somebody switches the radio station each time a patter-heavy local announces a number by Hank Sr. Still, the original country-folk tunes (some of which Sorensen wrote) are cool, and the movie earns so much goodwill in the first hour that you're happy to go wherever it happens to amble.