Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When director Gail Maurice was looking for a lead actress for a title character in her feature film ROSIE, she went off on an extensive search across the country for the perfect cast member.
The film, which takes place in 1980s Montreal, is centred around a young, orphaned, Indigenous girl named Rosie who is forced to live with her reluctant, street-smart Aunty Frédérique.
“What I didn't realize when I started the audition process is that six-year-olds normally don't read [much], or can't read yet,” said Maurice, who also wrote the screenplay. “It was quite a learning curve for me coming to that realization.”
Maurice would choose Keris Hope Hill for the role, a Kanien’kehá:ka girl from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.
“She was prepared. She knew all of her lines, and she had never acted before,” Maurice said about Hill. “She had never been on set, but her mom was there, and her mom was always in her eyesight so that she always felt safe.”
And once all the first on-set kinks got sorted out, Maurice said she relished the experience of working with the young actress.
“What I loved about Keris, and what I love about children, is they see the world with such innocence but also joy, kindness and non-judgment, which is why I wrote Rosie as a little six-year-old,” said Maurice, who was born and raised in a small Métis community in Northern Saskatchewan.
The film is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) tomorrow Sept. 9 with a screening at Scotiabank Theatre. The premiere is sold out, but a limited number of tickets are still available for the second screening on Wednesday Sept. 14 at tiff.net/tickets.
“I'm still flying,” Maurice said about the film screening at TIFF. “When we found out we were [selected for the festival], I was screaming, and I was crying, and I was jumping. Like every filmmaker I think wants to screen at TIFF and the top festivals. The excitement doesn't end and doesn't stop. I'm so excited… It’s a dream come true.”
ROSIE is an adaptation of Maurice’s 2018 short film of the same name. Maurice said she planned for the film to be a one-off, but felt it was natural for the short to progress into a feature-length movie.
“When I started writing, because these characters were living in my brain, it was easy to just create an even longer life for them,” Maurice said.
ROSIE touches on the Sixties Scoop, the removal of Indigenous children from their homes to be adopted out into non-Indigenous families, a system that Rosie’s mom went through.
“That's Rosie's journey,” Maurice said. The film is also about “finding family and chosen family and love and acceptance and being proud to be Indigenous.”
The choice of location was quite intentional for Maurice, who explained the intention behind the selection of Montreal as the key setting for the film.
“Most of my themes are about alienation, identity and family and love,” she said. “And I wanted it to be set in an environment where Rosie, who is English-speaking, is set in a world that is totally foreign to her.”
Ultimately, though, Maurice decided to make the story about how the title character adapts to her new circumstances.
“I wanted everything to be foreign to her, but also about, in the end, that doesn't matter to her,” Maurice said. “It's like what matters is the love that the characters show her and that she knows that she's part of that little family.”
The film will be distributed in both French and English. Readers can also watch for the film at the Atlantic International Film Festival, Cinéfest Sudbury, Edmonton and Calgary film festivals, and the Vancouver International Film Festival.
While ROSIE has taken up a great deal of focus in Maurice’s career, it’s not the only film she’s involved with at the festival. Maurice is an actress too and plays the role of Older Taylor Whallach in Marie Clements’ Bones of Crows.
That film is described as a “powerful indictment of the abuse of Indigenous peoples and a stirring story of extraordinary resilience and resistance,” and it’s set to premiere on Saturday, Sept. 10, also at Scotiabank Theatre.
Previous acting credits for Maurice include the 2021 film Night Raiders, as well as the television shows Trickster and Cardinal.
On the heels of ROSIE, Maurice has a new feature titled Bloodlines she would like to shoot in 2023. She’s also workshopping a pilot for an untitled comedy series.
“There’s a lot of exciting things happening,” she said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.