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'Backroads' best feature film

In most cases, watching a film where you know what's coming takes away from the impact or suspense of the story unfolding. But in Shirley Cheechoo's debut feature film "Backroads," the story line's predictability has just the opposite effect.

Like a doe standing in the middle of a highway seeing the headlights of an 18-wheeler heading her way, so movie goers will struggle with the same sense of powerlessness as they sit and wait for what they know is about to happen. Brutal as it is gentle, and whimsical as it is disturbing, "Backroads" tells the story of Ella Lee, a woman who kills her abusive husband.

Set in the 1970s on a Canadian reserve, the story unfolds as a dark, spiritual phenomenon, Bear-walker, stalks the community. Even though the main plot revolves around the killing of Ella Lee's husband (played by Tim Sampson), "Backroads" also takes a look into the complexities of sibling relationships and reality of police racism.

Coming from a strong tradition of storytelling, the Cree filmmaker entwines the different elements of the plot into a compelling drama with flashbacks and narrative. And like the collective stories of Native women she has drawn from, the filmmaker brings together an ensemble of actors which delivers powerful and emotionally charged performances. Renae Morriseau stands out in the role of Ella Lee, with Sheila Tousey, Shirley Cheechoo and Greta Cheechoo in supporting roles playing her three sisters.

Cheechoo is a filmmaker who believes in exposing and stretching perceptions beyond the popular and comfortable perimeters, and in her debut feature, Cheechoo (who wrote, directed, produced and acted in this drama) delivers a powerful blow. Through the tragic life of Ella Lee, Cheechoo takes the story of one woman and presents the fate of far too many women today.

"Backroads" doesn't give the luxury of vindication. Instead, the filmmaker presents an unforgiving look at violence against women and offers only one way out - the truth. And with that knowledge comes the responsibility to act. As Shirley Cheechoo simply says, "Backroads" is about stopping the violence - stopping the silence!"