TIFF 2020: Beans Review

The Oka Crisis receives a long overdue dramatic treatment in Tracey Deer’s Beans. This 78-day event proved a breakthrough moment for turning attention towards Indigenous rights in Canada. The Mohawk of Kanehsatake erected blockades at the Mercier Bridge. This limited access to Montreal in response to the impending seizure of sacred burial land for a golf course. Alanis Obomsawin chronicled the event in unsurpassable detail with her 1993 documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. A dramatic return to Oka couldn’t be better timed. The implications of the Oka Crisis are obvious today with the Wet’suwet’en protests inspiring blockades across Canada this year. Beans joins Kanehsatake by asking how many generations need to carry on this fight.

The summer of 1990 sees Beans (newcomer Kiawentiio) on the cusp of adolescence as director Tracey Deer integrates the tense standoff within a touching coming of age tale. The 12-year-old begins to see her place in the world. She recognizes the tensions between her fellow Mohawk and the settler community that surrounds them. Beans sees these tensions within herself. She wonders if going to a “white school” means furthering her education at the expense of her identity. As Beans makes new friends and sees her family drama intersect with that of the community, the event transforms her.

Beans‘ Documentary Roots

Deer (Mohawk Girls) makes her feature dramatic debut with a story that connects past and present. Drawing upon her documentary roots, and her experience growing up in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Beans poignantly intersects the personal and political. Similarly, Deer weaves archival footage within the coming of age tale. The archives’ propulsive thrust provides a riveting backdrop while reminding us how little things change. The film’s indebtedness to Obomsawin’s work is evident in its riveting fusion of drama and documentary. One sees a passing of the torch between Obomsawin and Deer as the fire carries on between generations.

Beans premiered at TIFF 2020.