What begins like a documentary eventually turns into a story settling on a teenage girl’s mission. The words displayed during the opening credits inform the audience of an upcoming native hearing on a judgement of oil tankers passing through their lands that may cause damage to native resources. The 14-year old Ella, a native, (Ta’Kaiya Blaney), is asked by her Uncle Dave (Evan Admas) before his death to testify at this hearing to be held in the community of Klemtu.
The title, KAYAL TO KELMTU refers to the trip by kayak undertaken by Ella. Ella decides to grant her Uncle Dave’s dying wishes – which includes scattering his ashs along the way. The trip allows Ella (and the audience, obviously) to discover the land and then deliver her testimony at the end of the trip at Klemtu.
This is a film that delivers a strong message for the indigenous people. Their lands have been stolen and violated. It is time to stop – beginning at halting the oil tankers from travelling through their inland waters. One oil spill and the damage will be irreversible. Klemtu, is a tiny community in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, where Ella’s family used to live. Ella is thrown for a loop when she’s joined by her wacky aunt (Sonja Bennett), wayward cousin (Jared Ager-Foster) and cranky uncle (Lorne Cardinal). As they make their way up the Inside Passage to Klemtu, not only is the trip a challenge, so too are the family dynamics.
Despite the filmmakers’ good intentions, the film aimed at a family audience turns out too crowd pleasing, manipulative (like the the bear hunting encounter) and at times unbelievable. The script also (too obvious) contains some Hollywood-style powerful crowd arousing dialogue. Ella’s mother says: “That pipeline does not stand a chance, ” as Ella partakes of the trip to the hearing.
One of the most impressive aspects of the film are the stunning scenery of the British Columbia natural landscapes. The camera lingers from the rocks on the shores of the rives to the forests to the mountains and even the pretty little flowers and vegetation, all part of the greater nature of things.
Young actress Ta’Kaiya Blaney who in real life is an environmental activist delivers a winning performance. The only trouble is that she always looks too perfect with perfect make-up and tidy hair even after spending 4 consecutive days and nights in a rainstorm. At Klemtu, the audience suddenly sees her and her aunt wearing fashionable coordinated bright new parkas.
Despite the film’s faults, credit must be given to Hopkins and crew for trying. The film sends an important message to save native natural resources. But the more important message is that everyone, whether directly affected or not, should do his/her own to save Mother Earth. The film, a crowd pleaser, won the audience award at the 2017 imagineNATIVE and Powell River festivals, and took Best Canadian First Feature at Victoria 2018.