Indian Road Trip: The summer movie you haven’t seen but totally will, once it’s finished

in Featured/Indy Essay by

I suppose the only way is to get in the car with them. How else to tell the story of the production of an independent Indigenous movie called Indian Road Trip? Just get into the car on a reservation somewhere near Merritt, British Columbia, on a hot summer morning and feel the dust enter your lungs as the tires turn. 

Allan Hopkins (writer/director):

It’s about two young guys who want to leave the reserve because they’re bored. They want to go on a road trip. 

Dale Hunter (plays elder Hetta Yellow-Fly): 

Once you stay on the reservation you’re a lifer. Hank doesn’t want to be a lifer. 

……

Where’s the car going? Wreck Beach, a well-known nude beach in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

That’s how the movie begins.

……

So much history–First Nation, Métis, and European–has to come together at the right time to make an independent movie like this one.  

Dale Hunter:

We were brought up Métis. Papi took his family out of Winnipeg to get away from the bigotry and the racism. When we were little kids we lived up in Ruskin. And Papi had given mom and your grandmother each five acres of his land. And we all lived together.

Allan Hopkins: 

My mother is First Nations. My father has always lived on a reserve or close to it and had a lot of First Nations or Indigenous friends. I identify quite strongly with my First Nations heritage. I spent a lot of my time on a reserve when I was younger.

Dale Hunter: 

The Métis jig. They would come down to our house because we had the piano. And Papi and Mom would play the violin and the fiddle. Aunt Estelle, your grandmother, played the piano, she would chord. And mom and Pape would play the fiddle and Mame would play the guitar. And we just danced.

……

In the back seat, the sun licks the nape of our necks and squints our eyes. The dust tastes a bit like dislocation now, like the struggle that is part of being Indigenous in a settler country, like the choice that is almost always just down the road: to stay or to leave?

Allan Hopkins: 

I’m kind of out on my own path without a real strong First Nations connection. Except that I’ve been around First Nations people my entire life. And for 15 years I did nothing but advocate for First Nations people. 

Dale Hunter:

And mom passed and right away I was brought up absolutely not Aboriginal, period. And I would always get in trouble because I didn’t fit. You know what I mean? The nice polite European thing. I tell you right now: I’ve experienced both lives and for me the Métis lifestyle is where I belong. 

Allan Hopkins:

The movie is a fantasy on my part on what could have been. I could have stayed, I could have said: hey, the reserve and this life is much more than I think it is. Because once I got out of there I didn’t go back. And I went a completely different route than many, many people that I knew and grew up with who stayed.

……

We’re still in that car. The top is pulled down. We’re headed off the reservation to the beach. The nude beach. 

Allan Hopkins:

But before they can leave they get caught scamming some white tourists. 

Dale Hunter: 

Hank needs the money to get out of the reservation.

Allan Hopkins:

So they are forced to drive this very cranky elder, Hetta, across the reserve to visit her dying sister.

Dale Hunter:

She will only ride in a car that’s going 10 km/hour. There’s kids on bicycles and they go faster than they are. They pass the car.

Allan Hopkins:

So what should really take them just a couple of hours ends up taking them all day.

……

Filming for Indian Road Trip wrapped up a year ago June, but Hopkins is looking for money to take the movie through a final post-production process. 

“I’m hoping to get some more funding from BC Arts Council. And other than that I’m going to have to find some sort of angel  investor or something along those lines,” he said. 

His crowd-source campaign brought in only 15 per cent of what he needs. 

“We need about $25,000 dollars. That would really go a long way. That’s what I’ve budgeted on the very low end. I’d really be happier with $30,000. But with $25,000 I think I can get it out to festivals and get it to point where I’m really happy with it,” he said. 

I’m not all that familiar with movie-making, so I looked up post-production in Wikipedia. It says there that post production typically includes things like video editing, writing, re-recording, soundtrack editing, and the addition of special effects. All this usually takes longer than the shooting itself. 

……

So now we’ve got an elder in the backseat. But we’re kind of pissed that she’s still there. She won’t let us go as fast as we’d like to. And, instead of going to the beach, we’re heading to the old reservation. 

Dale Hunter:

She comes across as the mean old lady. And she’s stuck in this car with these two complete dorks. One of them is Ajuawak Kapashesit, who plays Hank Crow Eyes.

Allan Hopkins:

They keep running into these road blocks wherever they go. All these women are mad at them.

Dale Hunter:

There’s people that live outside and there’s people that live inside themselves. Hetta lives inside herself.

Allan Hopkins:

When we started picking it apart, I realized that this had a lot to do with me. I have a tendency to abandon people. And I have throughout my life. And I feel like I abandoned my reserve. I kind of walked away from them and never went back very much. A lot of my close relationships with women, I tended to walk away from them on the slightest pretext and always looking for something new something more exciting, so I had a lot of women mad at me.

Dale Hunter:

Is there any Hetta in me? Yeah, there is. I think there’s a little bit. I think that’s why I felt so strongly about Hetta. Maybe that’s why I always get the cranky old lady parts. And that’s kind of nice.

Allan Hopkins:

I mean, I’ve changed now.

Dale Hunter:

They are driving down the road and she’s going: oh my God, I am so alone in this car. And they’re not going that fast so she can hear everything that they’re talking about. And I guess that also plays a part of it: she starts to hear Hank.

……

And then, there’s this thing we’re all talking about. Reconciliation. 

Allan Hopkins:

They have a magical supernatural showdown in the cabin.

Dale Hunter:

She throws her table across the room and says ‘I got the goddamn money’. And now the gun’s pointed at her. That’s the incredible strength. She’ll put herself in danger to save these other guys. That’s her job. 

Allan Hopkins:

I was out shooting some video for my daughter at a reconciliation march a few months ago. We were going up to people and talking about reconciliation, what it meant to them.

Dale Hunter:

The older I get the more I realize it’s a different culture in the Caucasian world. 

Allan Hopkins:

Most of the white people who were allies had a very heartfelt but more of a heady kind of an intellectual idea: that reconciliation needs to happen, that the settler community is unaware of many of these injustices, and that they are going to do their part to facilitate reconciliation.

Dale Hunter:

And Paul was driving back and forth to the different reservations and he’d run around and open the door for me. And I’d say: Oh Paul you don’t have to do that. And he says: I’m not doing it for you; I’m doing it to honour my grandmother.

Allan Hopkins:

But when we interviewed the Native people they were deeply emotional. Some of them cried. Some of them broke down when we asked: what does reconciliation mean to you? They were passionate. It was a very personal thing. There still is that divide between what reconciliation means for your average non-native settler person and what reconciliation really means for First Nations people.

Dale Hunter:

I do it to honour my grandmother, he said. The respect that I got on set because of my age. Like I’m not used to that. I live in the Caucasian world you know.

Allan Hopkins:

And as far as First Nations people go, we’re working it out. Reconciliation means something a little different and maybe a lot different for every person. There’s no two people it means exactly the same to. There’s a huge resurgence of First Nations pride. It’s just really, really palatable and it’s everywhere. In some respects it’s a wonderful time to be a First Nations person.

Dale Hunter:

And people [on set] would actually listen to me talk. We’d be shooting the breeze about something and the Aboriginal people on set actually stopped and listened to everything that I had to say. You don’t see that. That’s unheard of.

Allan Hopkins: 

But when it comes down to it, I don’t think anything is worth writing unless it’s part of you, unless it’s part of your soul, and you’re working with very deep-level conflicts. If you’re not able to get down there and look at the bare bones of the people you’ve hurt, and the people who’ve hurt you, and your deep fears, and your deep desires, I think whatever you write is not going to resonate with people.

Dale Hunter:

Hetta’s way off in the corner of this bar and she’s watching. All she can see is somebody pointing a gun and he’s going to shoot somebody, so Hetta stands up.

……

Allan Hopkins is the writer, director and producer of Indian Road Trip.
Dale Hunter plays Hetta Yellow-Fly. (Dale Hunter is the author’s mother’s cousin.)

Michelle Porter is the lead editor for The Independent. She holds a BA in Journalism, an MA in Folklore and a PhD in Geography. She is the recipient of 2005 Atlantic Journalism Award for feature writing and the recipient of 2016 NL Arts and Letters award for poetry. She has been long-listed for CBC Poetry prize in 2016 and 2017.