Hamilton’s enormous impact on the life of artist and musician Tom Wilson has been reflected in everything he has done over the past few decades.
beautiful scars, a documentary based on Wilson’s bestselling memoir of the same name, is no different. It is set to have its premiere screening at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on May 2 at 5:15 p.m. ET at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 in Toronto.
Wilson – who grew up in “a blue-collar Hamilton neighborhood filled with factory workers and nuclear families”, as the film portrays it – says the city has helped him become the artist he is today, an artist dedicated to honoring his culture through his work. .
“Hamilton is a giant part of my life. It’s where I grew up, so as someone who works in their life to be an artist, it’s had a huge influence on me,” Wilson told CBC. Hamilton.
“Not just the people, but the streets, the characters, the stories that happened here, [they] are all the stories on which I based my first 53 years of artistic, literary and musical creation…
“Now my job, as someone working to become an artist, is to bring Mohawk culture to light where it belongs, and also be able to address Indigenous issues that are important for the world to know about through my art. . ,” he added.
“New truths have been able to come out”
The documentary delves into Wilson’s lifelong quest to find himself and ultimately discover his true identity as a Mohawk man.
Like his book, it shares truths about Wilson’s biological family and his Indigenous heritage, tracing back to unravel his family history and eventually following him to the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke, just south of Montreal, where he meets for the first time the biological family who did not know they existed.
Wilson says Shane Belcourt, the two-time Canadian Screen Award-nominated Métis director, worked as an animator to develop a relationship with his mother that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
“Having a Métis director who has an understanding of the Indigenous world and the struggles of the Indigenous world was key,” says Wilson.
“My mom and I had conversations and new truths were able to come out that otherwise wouldn’t have come out the same way, would have come out awkwardly, would have come out guarded.”
“But if you find the right person to direct a film, who can also work as a therapist, who also has their heart in the right place, it’s amazing how the truth can come out. And I really think that if nothing another, we were able to tell a truth in this film that, in our own way, we were able to crush the backbone of colonialism for an hour and a half,” he added.
“An Incredible Storyteller”
Belcourt first heard Wilson in the 90s when “it was impossible to escape the sound of Junkhouse [a band Wilson formed in 1989] and the successes they have had.”
He continued to follow the “incredible entertainer” career into the 2000s with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
“I then had the chance to read his book, beautiful scarswhich the film is kind of built, I was transported into an incredible storyteller, but most importantly, it’s a storyteller who has a story about his native life, a gentleman who is going to reclaim his native family and community in such a genuine and real and heartbreaking and true way that I just thought, ‘OK, I would just like to meet Tom and talk about this, about the story,'” Belcourt said, in an interview with CBC Hamilton.
“He was a sincere, honest, truth-telling guy, which is my favorite, and we got on well and I was like, ‘Well, if he and I can have a conversation about our creativity, our identity and could somehow find a way to put it on screen, I think we’re going to have something I’d like to at least watch.'”
Film shot almost entirely in Hamilton
Belcourt says the entire film was shot in Hamilton, except for the trip to Kahnawà:ke which was central to Wilson’s story.
But he says beautiful scars has messages for people everywhere.
“One of the key elements of any kind of art is that you want it to be so personal and so individual that somehow the audience is allowed to be transported into a sort of universal,” he said.
“So what I hope the audience will have a chance to do is to really spend time with Tom and his family, and see a family that can deal with grief and trauma and really find the truth.
“When families can come together and face hard truths, they have a chance to find a way to access a new understanding of love for one another and a new possibility of happiness in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t have had they kept it buried. So I think that’s something universal in this movie,” Belcourt added.
According to the producers of the film — Cream Films — beautiful scars mixes a hybrid of visual styles, animations and stock photos. The soundtrack is taken from Wilson’s extensive catalog.
“With Shane at the helm and our incredible access to Tom, who is a naturally gifted storyteller, we’re telling a nuanced and layered story,” said Corey Russell, executive vice president of Cream Films. “beautiful scars is Tom’s painstakingly told journey of the scars that hurt us and make us who we are.”
Work in Hamilton includes fundraising for Indigenous scholarships
Wilson is a busy man. In addition to the movie release, he also released a new song with fellow Hamilton artist, Iskwē, on April 27 and organizes two evenings of Music at McMaster University at the end of May in support of the Tom Wilson Indigenous Scholarship in honor of Bunny Wilson.
Wilson started the scholarship in 2020 “to help bring back honor, love, respect, and shine a light on the culture I was introduced to later in life, and to honor the charitable nature that Bunny Wilson who raised me embodied throughout his life.”
The award will support first-year Aboriginal students, from an Ontario high school, who are completing an undergraduate program at McMaster.
Wilson says he hopes to announce the first fellows this summer.
It’s “hands-on work,” with truth, art, and music, which Wilson says is central to his life now.
“That’s the job I should be doing in my life, making sure that an Indigenous kid who wants to get a college degree can be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer,” Wilson said.
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