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Film Reviews Haida-language drama Edge of the Knife is as sharp and thrilling as its title promises

Tyler York plays the fabled Gaagid in Edge of the Knife, set in 19th-century Haida Gwaii.

Courtesy of TIFF

  • Edge of the Knife
  • Directed by: Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown
  • Written by: Gwaai Edenshaw, Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Leonie Sandercock
  • Starring: Tyler York, William Russ and Adeana Young
  • Classification: N/A; 100 minutes

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The everyday challenges facing Canadian filmmakers are daunting enough. Yet the arrival of Edge of the Knife proves that, for some directors, there are no obstacles too large to overcome through sheer force of will.

The intense drama is the first feature ever produced entirely in the endangered Haida language – a daring act that required the cast, none of whom could speak the Indigenous dialect, to immerse themselves in the tongue and culture for an intensive rehearsal process. Add that feat to the fact that the film had only $1.8-million at its disposal, and it’s simply a coup that the feature was completed at all. Yet co-directors Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown prove themselves to be skilled dramatists, too, turning a seemingly simple story of human nature into a captivating and at times stunning work.

Taking place in the 1800s, the film follows a Haida Gwaii man (Tyler York) who, after sparking a fatal accident, flees into the wilderness, emerging a year later as a feral and beastly “Gaagiid” (or “Wildman”). The themes of guilt and redemption may be familiar, but Edenshaw and Haig-Brown present them in a vision so distinct and unfamiliar to audiences that the film feels abundantly fresh. While there is a slight pacing problem mid-film, and a tendency toward overwrought imagery at that same time, Edge of the Knife is nearly as sharp and thrilling as its title promises.

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Edge of the Knife opens April 5 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto (tiff.net); co-director Gwaai Edenshaw will appear for a post-film Q&A April 6 after the 3:30 p.m. screening.

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