To call Irene Bedard busy would be a laughable understatement. The multi-talented actress, director and producer best-known from her roles on A&E's Longmire or the mockumentary Ron and Laura Take Back America or as narrator of A Thousand Voices spoke with ICTMN about two of her recent projects, Songs My Brothers Taught Me and Two Old Women, which have been creating industry buzz.
Songs My Brothers Taught Me was first introduced at last year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah, then traveled to the Cannes Film Festival in France. The film, in which Bedard is Co-executive producer and portrays the role of Lis Winters is, according to Bedard, the story of a young boy and girl from the Pine Ridge Reservation and the struggles that they face.
“The entirety of the film is meant to help people understand why someone wouldn't leave the Rez. A lot of people have asked me, ‘Well, if it's so hard to find jobs, why don't you just leave?' The film answers that question."
Conceived by Chloé Zhao, the film was four years in the making, during which time the Chinese-born writer and director lived on the Rez. "As I became friends with some of the Lakota people living there, I became increasingly intrigued and almost envious of the deep connection they have to their homes, families, communities and their land,” said Zhao.
“This bone-deep attachment also has its consequences, and over time I also became aware of the various struggles and isolation they face because of it. In many ways I made Songs to explore this question – How do you leave the only place you’ve ever known?"
Bedard will be directing Two Old Women, a film is based on a best-selling book by Velma Wallis (Gwich'in Athabascan). Thomas Denomme, Bedard’s partner at Sleeping Lady Films, Waking Giants Productions, had discussed the book, loved the story and decided to make an offer to the author to produce the film. “As an Alaskan Native, it's just one of our great stories,” says Bedard.
"It's a true story that has been passed on from generation to generation, of two old women, during a very harsh winter, who were abandoned because they weren't able to keep up with the entire village as it migrated. It's a story of survival and perseverance, and the Gwich'in Athabascan have continued to do that. “
“We are going to film in an Indigenous language in an Indigenous territory,” says Bedard. “We want to preserve our languages and this is one way to promote that. The loss of language and culture and assimilation, that very much leads to the conditions in which people live.
"I think that there's so much left untold as to American Indian people and culture and tradition, history and our positive stories, our good news in Indian Country. There are so many stories out there that I think are more than entertainment. If you're doing good storytelling, you're always going to inform someone about a different point of view. And, this point of view, a Native American/Alaskan Native/ American Indian/Indigenous point of view, has not had as many opportunities as other points of view."
Songs My Brother Taught Me with John Reddy (Lakota) and Jashaun St. John (Lakota) in the lead roles has been showing at various film festivals around the country. Two Old Women is currently in pre-production.