August 17, 2009

Elijah the movie

“NO”:  One Word Changes a Nation in the Timely CTV Original Movie Elijah, May 25The Meech Lake Accord: a political crisis that left the country teetering on the edge. It’s a subject that might put some high school students to sleep, but not in Elijah, the spirited tale of a reluctant hero who went on to change the course of Canadian history--with a feather. The timely, two-hour CTV Original Movie takes a smart and lighthearted look at an important historical moment, digging underneath the constitutional crisis of the time to reveal a true homegrown David and Goliath story. Scheduled to mark the anniversary of the Meech Lake Accord in early June, Elijah premieres Sunday, May 25 at 8 p.m. ET on CTV (visit to confirm local listings).

Recently nominated for an astounding eight 2008 Leo Awards, Elijah is the latest big-event CTV Original Movie following the February broadcast of Mayerthorpe, the most-watched Canadian drama of the year with 1.3 million viewers.

On June 3, 1990, the day the Meech Lake Accord was signed by the Premiers, Elijah Harper’s personal and professional life was in tatters. The disarmingly shy politician and aboriginal leader was facing increasing pressure from his community to effect change, his marriage was on the rocks, and he was beginning to question whether he could meet the gigantic expectations placed upon him. Over the next 20 days, with the help of the Manitoba Chiefs, including the charismatic Chief Phil Fontaine, Harper rose to the challenge and inadvertently became a hero by fighting for the rights of Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Risking everything that was important to him, Harper rocked the nation by raising an eagle feather and saying “No” to Manitoba’s ratification of the Meech Lake Accord.

Featuring a witty script and catchy soundtrack, Elijah stars Billy Merasty (Moose TV, Indian Summer: The Oka Crisis) as Elijah Harper. The movie was filmed entirely in Manitoba including, for the first time, inside the Manitoba Legislative Chamber.
'Elijah' tells intimate, sometimes funny story of aboriginal hero Elijah HarperBilly Merasty has been acting since 1983, but says all of his previous work felt like rehearsal for the role of a lifetime: portraying his hero, Elijah Harper.

"This man is my Nelson Mandela, my Mahatma Gandhi," says Merasty, a Cree who hails from northern Manitoba, just like Harper.

"When I was doing 'Elijah,' it felt like everything I had done before then was practice to get to that point."

"Elijah," airing Sunday night, is an intimate and often witty look at the quiet and unassuming Harper, a Manitoba provincial politician who played a major part in the downfall of the Meech Lake Accord--aimed at bringing Quebec into the Constitution--when he raised an eagle feather and said "no" to Manitoba's ratification of the pact in 1990.
CTV's Elijah raises a feather

Every so often, though, a docudrama comes along that has style, panache and flair to succeed.Docudramas are a dime a dozen.

Every so often, though, a docudrama comes along that has style, panache and flair to succeed.

Elijah (CTV--8 p.m.), director Paul Unwin and writer Blake Corbet's fast-paced, eccentric biography of Rupertsland, Man., aboriginal leader Elijah Harper, is a delight. The historical record is known to anyone who followed the national news in 1990. With the Meech Lake Accord a seeming fait accompli, Harper raised an eagle feather and said "No" to the ratification of the legislation.

This is dazzling, confident filmmaking, written with unbridled passion and burning with intelligence and wit. Unwin is a Brit who has directed Poirot TV movies and Syrup, the BAFTA-nominated, Cannes Jury Prize-winning short film. Corbet is a Calgary native who produced the homegrown films Mile Zero, The Delicate Art of Parking and Missing in America.

Together they have taken a familiar tale--a young aboriginal boy is picked on in school and grows up to become a man of substance--and made it something quite special, without resorting to the mawkish, hideous clichés prevalent in so many dramatized re-creations.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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