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Rhymes for Young Ghouls
The art of forgetfulness
Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) is a film about a Mi’kmaw child in Canada 1969. The film starts gently enough, only to batter you immediately with a Hereditary-like turn (which came out five years later), followed by a seven-year jump to a strip club, all scored by the Black Keys circa their massively successful album Brothers. This kind of film reminds you of why we watch indie films in the first place: the creative abandon.
Director Jeff Barnaby passed away in 2022 at age 46, leaving a giant hole in the indie film world. He was a native person making modern films that communicate the complexity of being a native in a land that continues to become more foreign. Unlike the many Indian stories told through the lens of Hollywood whiteness (regardless of their intentions), this film wants vengeance, reconciliation, and catharsis. Barnaby managed to make two feature films before departing: this, his first, and Blood Quantum (2019), a zombie film where Native Americans realize that their blood makes them immune from turning into zombies. The premise alone spurs me to watch. Barnaby approached his movies with an axe to grind, a rage lacking in indie film today, save Jordan Peele’s work.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls is inventive despite what, at times, might seem like tropes; Wise older people, for example, feel organic in a story like this: Grandma tells a parable at the start of the second act that is animated, hallucinogenic, and terrifying. It was a story Grandma heard before she was taken off to school. “School,” as the film shows, is a loose way of describing a government-sanctioned boarding house where children are sent so they can’t learn their native culture. From Wikipedia:
“The last federally-funded residential school, Kivalliq Hall in Rankin Inlet, closed in 1997. Schools operated in every province and territory with the exception of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.”
This is a movie where a young indigenous woman beats a Conan O’Brien-esque villain with a baseball bat after the plumbing in his shower betrays him, spraying him with hot muck from the depths of the land he trespasses on. When Aila (Devery Jacobs) stares at the mess that is her father, without words to describe the wreck that is their lives, you understand the rage this film has for a system of government that contributed so wholly to the ruin of a people. It takes only a generation for the waters to muddy, for a daughter to become unable to untangle the onus of failure: on the individual or “society?” This movie asks, on behalf of all indigenous people, in anger and desperation: What brings my people together? It’s not the schools.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls
Written and Directed by Jeff Barnaby
Recommended way to watch (at the time of publication): Watch for free on Kanopy or Hoopla with a local library card.
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
As I write about the Mi’kmaw people, I realize I don’t know what word to use. Indian. Native American. Indigenous person. We live in a time where finding the meaning of a word can be as hard as the consequences of using the wrong word. This is not to say that consequences are bad. Just to say that as the speed of information accelerates, the ability to keep up becomes harder: I fear the future.
If you haven’t guessed, this month we’re focusing on indigenous peoples. Four weeks and four films are hardly enough to capture the breadth of culture that the mainstream continues to miss out on, but hopefully, it can give you a poke in a new direction. Find those hidden gems out there, and when you do, let me know!