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Michelle Latimer Gets Sundance Nod

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Canadian actress and producer Michelle Latimer has added another epithet to her list of accomplishments: winner of honorable mention for indigenous shorts at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Latimer also worked as an adjunct director on the 2009 documentary Reel Injun, which is screening this month at the U.S. National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and has a number of television and screen credits to her name.

At Sundance she drew attention for her six-minute film Choke, the fictional story of a First Nations boy named Jimmy who leaves his reservation and encounters lost souls. She wrote and directed the film.

In a Jan. 20 interview with the blog Pearl Snap Discount, she detailed how she set out to film a documentary about kids who are sent to high school in Thunder Bay from remote reserves, and the isolation they feel at living so far away from their own families, even though they live with host families.

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“Many of these kids have lots of problems adjusting,” she said. “They’re taken away from their families as teenagers, they don’t see their parents from September till like May, June.”

She was drawn to the five students in the school’s visual arts class. One 17-year-old, the grandson of a prominent Canadian aboriginal artist, was talented enough that he had already had his own gallery show in Ottawa.

“Three months after I’d known him he phoned his dad and said, ‘Dad, I can’t do this, I want to come home,’ and his dad said, ‘You need an education, just stick it out, you can do it,’ ” Latimer told Pearl Snap Discount. “And tragically he committed suicide. He just couldn’t hack it.”

Realizing she could no longer make a straight documentary out of the story, she racked her brain and then decided, “I can be inspired and tell this story. I think it’s important to tell this story about how hard it is from the kids from northern reserves to get an education, but also to urbanize themselves.”

Thus “Jimmy” was born. “He moves to the city and he uses graffiti art to transport himself back home when he misses home,” Latimer said. “And it’s sort of that story.”