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Clearcut (1991) Review – Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival

I saw Clearcut, starring Graham Greene and directed by Ryszard Bugajski (Interrogation). It ran at the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, a great genre film festival run by John Allison and his team.

This was my first time seeing it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Clearcut as long as I live. The film is a drama/mystery that takes place in an unnamed Canadian province, and it feels more relevant now than it did when the film was made in 1991. A lawyer named Peter Maguire (Ron Lea, Bon Cop Bad Cop, Georgetown) loses a case to save a section of forest from being cut down by a logging mill run by Bud Rickets (Michael Hogan, The Devil Has a Name, Deadly Eyes).

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Resigned, Maguire returns to the forest to talk to the Elder of the Nation, Wilf, as played by Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Dances with Wolves, Grey Owl). Wilf directs him to a man only introduced as Arthur, played with absolute relish by Graham Greene (V for Vengeance, American Gods). At first, Arthur is presumed by Maguire to be an Indigenous activist, pursuing Indigenous “land back” issues with a single-minded determination and focus. The relationship between Maguire and Arthur starts civil, but quickly devolves after Arthur kidnaps Bud. Arthur’s sole motive claims to be to educate the lawyer and the logging mill boss on “how to listen to Mother Earth” because he takes them deep into the woods without looking back.

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A chilling story ensues; one that, for settlers, should feel very uncomfortable. This is the point for Greene here and, from his disquieting performance, one that he enjoys making. It’s not a lesson that gets diminished over time, either—Arthur’s focus on the land and the lessons he teaches about his culture and his people are all deeply crucial to consider, forever and today.

As I left the theatre after the film’s end, I found myself deep in thought, reflecting on the film’s ideas. As a settler myself, I thought about how the impact of a film like Clearcut would call settlers’ attention back to the relationship that settlers have with Indigenous peoples, and help us to consider meaningful ways that we can work on reconciliation together.

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