Wayne Wapeemukwa is exhausted from the “drinking, the networking, and the rushing around” that goes with a visit to the Toronto International Film Festival, where his jaw-dropping debut Luk’Luk’I (pronounced “Luck-lucky”) took this year’s award for best Canadian first feature. “I need to just relax!” pleads the filmmaker, reached a couple days later by the Straight. He also needs to put the win in perspective.
“It wasn’t a cake walk in any way, shape, or form,” Wapeemukwa says, reporting that Luk’Luk’I was met by TIFFsters with an equivalent degree of vitriol and charges of exploitation (grossly misconceived in the Straight’s view; Wapeemukwa gamely insists: “It is indeed a conversation we should be having.”)
Surveying a day in the life of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the film uses mostly nonactors playing semifictionalized versions of themselves, including former sex worker Angel Gates, heroin addict Eric Buurman, and local celeb Angela Dawson, a.k.a. Ms. Rollergirl, whose story involves an altercation with a gang of hockey fans and her mistreatment by police. That was based in truth. “It actually inspired the activism and advocacy that she dedicated her life to,” Wapeemukwa explains. “Although it demonstrates the more quotidian ways that she’s discriminated against, this event is also a milestone in her life.”
That it’s set on the last day of the 2010 Winter Olympics adds a whopping polemical angle to Luk’Luk’I. The Games, states Wapeemukwa, “continue the work of colonialism through the deployment of patriotism.” Luk’Luk’I succeeds in its own countermission through the deployment of great compassion and its not inconsiderable charms as a narrative.
There are horrors inside Luk’Luk’I, to be sure, but there’s also humour, warmth, and deep wells of emotion. A gonzo karaoke version of Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose” provides one ecstatic high point, while another of the film’s leads is pursued for the entire movie by a UFO. In short: there’s nothing else quite like it, and little else that presents such a vitally honest portrait of Vancouver, not least of all—as Wapeemukwa replies when asked what he wants Luk’Luk’I to tell the world about his hometown—“That it was founded on stolen land.”
Luk’Luk’I screens at the Rio Theatre on October 3 and 8.More