My lasting impression of Edge of the Knife is the beauty of the islands of Haida Gwaii (colonially known as the Queen Charlotte Islands); a spectacular place to visit and perhaps even more spellbinding place to live. Edge of the Knife (Sgaaway K’uuna) is set in the village of Yan in the nineteenth century and is the first feature film written in the Haida language, representing the cumulative efforts of a significant portion of the on island Haida community. The film focuses on a one year span where the audience can see changes within the film’s characters after European contact and over one summer, where practices surrounding death, food preparation and woven culture are shared with the outside world.
Award winning director Helen Haig Brown (from Tsleiqot’in Nation) and Gwaii Edenshaw (from Haida Nation) set a high bar for Aboriginal artistic cinematography with their epic, Star Wars-esque forest and shoreline shots and their depiction of the complex nature of longhouse social society and its unique social dynamic between community members. The film follows the mental decline of the Haida “Wild Man,” known as Gaagiid.
How close does Edge of the Knife come to fact concerning the experience and story of the Wildman?
Shooting a feature film with most of its dialogue in an endangered language shows just how intelligent and resourceful the on island Haida are —as proven by the long list of translators in the credits. Edge of The Knife is dominated by a mostly unspeaking character, that runs through the forest in search of civilization, because of which I was left a little hungry for more character development. Without an omniscient point of view, the viewer is stuck in the world of Adii t’sii as he transforms into “the Wildman.”
Interestingly enough, the Vancouver Museum is currently exhibiting Haida Now, which showcases both past and present Haida culture and is themed around resilience. The unwavering spirit that wraps, carves and embeds itself into cedar, spruce root and argillite provides examples of the same expressions found in The Edge of the Knife. This spirit takes form in the Great Box carving that director Gwaai Endenshaw contributed to the exhibit.
Values that have proved essential to Haida culture through time are seen here through their absence. The story told in The Edge of the Knife speaks of what can happen when the beliefs of acting with communal care and respect, both of the land and of the living beings who rely on it, are temporarily lost.