Cree actor displays his comedic and serious sides in movie Guitar Lessons

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023 10:53am


Image Caption

Conway Kootenay as Ernie Ghostkeeper in Guitar Lessons. Photo courtesy of Extra Butter Pictures.
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Conway Kootenay has gained a large following for his comedic sketches on social media platforms.

But Kootenay, a Cree actor who is from Alexander First Nation in Alberta, can also be more than just a funny guy.

The depth of his acting is on display in Guitar Lessons, a film that had its soft release last fall. It started gaining considerably more attention, however, when released nationally in theatres this past week.

Kootenay plays dysfunctional uncle Ernie Ghostkeeper in the film.

“I think I still am the comic relief in the movie,” Kootenay said. “You got to see a couple of sides of him.”

Guitar Lessons centres around a 15-year-old Métis boy played by Kaden Noskiye. The teen inherits a guitar from the father he never knew.

A former rock star (Corb Lund), who is now working as an oilfield contractor, is approached by the teen for help to learn to play.

Though there’s some initial reluctance to assist the teen, guitar lessons are provided and the teen forms a special bond with the teacher.

One of the main reasons the former rocker, who is named Ray Mitchell in the film, offers to help the teen is because he recognizes the well-used guitar the boy carries around. His former bandmate used to own it.

Guitar Lessons was filmed in a number of Alberta communities, including Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, Little Red River Cree Nation, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Beaver First Nation.

Scenes were also filmed in High Level, Fort Vermillion, Zama City and MacKenzie County.

The film was shot over a couple of months in the fall of 2021. Kootenay said he was pleased it was all filmed in his home province.
“It was great,” he said. “It was close to home, was in Alberta and I didn’t have to travel far for it.”

Kootenay added he had a lengthy journey to Scotland for one of his recent gigs, doing stunt work for the hit Netflix series Outlander. His stunt work is on display in the fourth and seventh seasons of that show.

Though he’s best known for his comedy, including the character Smudge Pan that was created for his online sketches, Kootenay said Guitar Lessons isn’t the first time he has played a more serious role.

Kootenay previously appeared in a 2014 film titled Grandmother’s Medicine. That film, which did not have a wide release, was produced by Indigenous filmmaker Georgina Lightning. The movie is a biopic about Lightning’s journey, which touches on suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, intergenerational trauma, as well as her healing.

“I still hope she does something with that film,” Kootenay said, adding he is hoping it is eventually seen by a wider audience.

Kootenay said he was pleased to show a couple of different sides to his Ernie Ghostkeeper character in Guitar Lessons.

“I think it was perfect,” he said. “If you’re going to do any sort of acting, you have to give everything you have.”

Kootenay said Aaron James, the writer/director of Guitar Lessons, who also acts in the movie,

had seen some of his comedic work and decided to include him in the film.

Kootenay also spoke highly of Noskiye, who made his film debut in Guitar Lessons, playing the character of Leland Parenteau.

“Kaden did well,” Kootenay said. “What more can you expect? He knocked it out of the park.”

Kootenay added it will be up to Noskiye to determine how far he can take his acting.

“Like anything, it takes a lot of hard work,” he said. “If he wants to do something he can. He’s got his foot in the door now.”

Various screenings for Guitar Lessons across the country can be viewed on the Cineplex website at

Never miss a Windspeaker article. Subscribe Today to our new Windspeaker Newsletter!

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.