James Bay film set to premiere at imagineNATIVE Film Festival this fall | CBC News

Northern Ontario actor and stuntman Keenan Grom knew for a while about the vision he had for his first-ever short film. 

He wanted it to be filmed in his hometown of Moosonee at an old boarded-up hotel owned by his father. The Moosonee Lodge hasn’t welcomed guests in over 20 years. 

“It’s almost as if we locked the door and then just walked away,” Grom said.

But when the opportunity to apply for a production grant from imagineNATIVE, an organisation that supports and promotes Indigenous-made film and video, presented itself, Grom could finally transform his vision to reality. 

“My grandfather passed and I think in the application I said ‘I want to get this done. I don’t know how else to get this grieving out of my head’,” said Grom, a citizen of Moose Cree First Nation. 

“I wrote this as a way of mourning.” 

Keenan Grom is an actor, stuntman and now director and producer from Moosonee, Ont. He wrote the script for the short film, ‘Through Brown Glass’ as a way to relieve himself from the grief of his grandfather’s death and wanted to film it in his hometown at the Moosonee Lodge, owned by his father. (Erik White/ CBC)

Suddenly the old boarded lodge that housed emotional and triggering memories for Grom was transformed into a film set for “Through Brown Glass”, a 10-minute short film set to premiere at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto later this year. 

A ‘Western’ on a Cree First Nation

“The movie might or might not be based on a true story of two bootleggers just having a parting glass as their moonshine business falls through,” said Grom, the writer, director and producer of the film. 

“I think of it as a northern Western. It has very native features in it, but it’s western.”

Set in a northern Ontario mining town in the mid-1990s, Grom says the film addresses bootlegger culture up in remote communities – most of which still have laws against the sale of alcohol. 

“Everyone tries to make a buck just because there’s a lot of seasonal jobs,” he said. 

“And some people that I know personally, they just don’t get hired because of the colour of their skin, they’re brown men in a white man’s world.”

I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it… we’ll see.– Keenan Grom, director and producer of ‘Through Brown Glass’

Grom said he tried to avoid “getting too much into the heavy stuff” when he was writing the script for the short. 

“That’s triggering things I just don’t want to really put in there… but it’s there.”

Funding to film in a remote location 

Through Brown Glass is currently in the editing stage, after months of preparation and production. 

But Grom said the project was possible thanks to generous funding from the imagineNATIVE Film Festival.

“They understand that Moosonee is an isolated place, and they’re like ‘hey, take some extra money, you’ll need it'”.

The program promotes mentorships, support and work opportunities. All of which Grom says helps indigenous artists, like himself succeed in their craft. 

The short-film is set to premiere at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto sometime between October 17-29, 2023.

When the film premiers, Grom admits he is nervous to watch it on the big screen. He says he still tears up when recollecting the back story, and will likely “go hide in the back” for those 10 minutes. 

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it… we’ll see.” 

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