“You can’t understand where you’re going if you don’t understand where you’ve been,” Saul Indian Horse says in the opening scene of the film “Indian Horse.”
And for Indian Horse, looking back meant dealing with the traumas of his youth in order to be able to move on as an adult.
“Indian Horse” is based on the award-winning novel by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. It is directed by Stephen Campanelli, and Clint Eastwood is the film’s executive producer. It’s the story of Saul Indian Horse, who was taken away from his family in 1950’s Ontario and sent to a Catholic Residential School, where like the Native American boarding schools in the United States, students were not allowed to speak their native languages or observe their traditions, had their hair cut and were subjected to horrific abuse.
It was during his time at the school that Saul was introduced to hockey by a priest who set up a rink in the schoolyard. Saul’s incredible natural talent at the sport was his ultimate ticket out of the school and led him all the way to the pros. But his career was short-lived because of the overt racism he experienced and the past he couldn’t escape.
Albuquerque actor Forrest Goodluck stars as a teenage Saul, who is also played by Sladen Peltier (young Saul) and Ajuawak Kapashesit (adult Saul).
“I saw the full script and I read it, and I wasn’t aware of the impact the book had in Canada, but after researching Richard Wagamese and learning about, of course, knowing about boarding schools in the United States and (learning) about residential schools in Canada, it was a story I really wanted to be a part of in any way possible,” said Goodluck, who was also in “The Revenant” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”
“From the get-go, I just knew I really wanted to be a part of it.”
For Goodluck, “Indian Horse” was a difficult movie to work on because of the content the film deals with.
“It was a super-tough film because it was around a three-month process from getting going to finishing. And it was trying to stay in that character, which, it was a different role: I had never had to delve into somebody who had been abused like that,” he said. “And for me, I can always talk about how hard or sad or difficult it was, but of course, it’s nowhere near in comparison to people who have actually been through that, and speaking with them ... it was more of a really humbling experience to be able to share someone else’s story and step into those shoes, shoes I’ll never be in, thankfully.”
Plus, Goodluck said, he had to brush up on his hockey skills for the role, practicing at a year-round hockey rink in Albuquerque. He said that while there were hockey doubles on set for some of the more intense moves, a lot of what is seen in the film was actually him.
“It was interesting because I could actually do the moves that he (the double) could do, so when we shot it, I would shoot the close-ups, and just for the more confident, faster moves, he would do the same thing, but they would cut between the two,” he said.
And while there’s some good hockey to be had in “Indian Horse,” there is a much bigger message Goodluck wants viewers to take away.
“I think for people to understand the history, especially if they’re from Canada,” he said. “My philosophy is it’s necessary to understand the history of the place that you are. I think watching ‘Indian Horse,’ there shouldn’t be, I guess, guilt with that, but there should be understanding and there should be reconciliation for what was done to the original inhabitants. ‘Indian Horse’ is a small story, but it’s a huge story in that it’s a part of a larger system. I think stories like these are so important for people to understand the history, and hopefully, learn from it, and as clichéd as it is, not repeat what’s happened in the past.”