Vehicular thriller Cold Road full of Alberta talent, including Cree Métis star Roseanne Supernault

The feature film written, directed and produced by Indigenous talent is playing in major theatres in Edmonton, Leduc, Camrose, St. Paul, Cold Lake, High Prairie, Wetaskiwin and Red Deer

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Tracy isn’t just having a bad drive up the highway; she’s being hunted by an 18-wheel big rig — a demonic metaphor for colonial murder.

Racing against time before her mother passes into the spirit world back in the hometown Tracy abandoned, her mounting obstacles include racist police, ferociously dropping temperatures and her loyal but curious dog Pretzel, prone to wandering off into dangerous places when he pees.

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This Indigenous-focused debut feature thriller directed by Kelvin Redvers is inspired by ’70s/’80s cult films — clearly including Steven Spielberg’s TV classic Duel.

Released Feb. 9 for a week-long run in theatres around Alberta, Cold Road will continue playing at Edmonton City Centre Landmark Cinema until at least Feb. 21, and be streaming widely on VOD/Digital on multiple platforms starting March 5.

The film is tense, cleverly inspired by northern issues and terrifically performed by Cree Métis actor Roseanne Supernault, who comes from East Prairie Métis Settlement south of Highway 2 and High Prairie, later graduating from Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts in Edmonton.

“I get this phone call, and they make me an offer,” Supernault, who played Natalie Stoney in Blackstone, explains of how she first got involved. “And they say, ‘It is set in the dead of winter, we’re filming right away, and it’s going to be cold.’”

Cold may have been an understatement, as the film’s locations near director Kelvin Redver’s hometown of Hay River, NWT, saw temperatures dropping to the point of shutting down production for humanitarian reasons.

“I would say, in toughness of shoots, Cold Road takes the crown,” she laughs, having also starred in the 2013 period piece Maïna, set in the Arctic. “In Maïna, I had buckskin, and my ancestors had it right because that skin can keep you really warm. And when we were filming scenes with the Inuit community, I had a parka on.

“But Tracy does not have buckskin or a parka, more like a tweed winter jacket where you could just feel the cold coming in.”

Still, Supernault says she felt good about saying yes to the project. “Mostly because of our illustrious leader Kelvin Redvers, who grew up in the bush and grew up hunting and comes from a family who knows the lands and have been a part of the land.”

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Whereas Spielberg’s Duel was an almost mythical vehicular David versus Goliath, Redvers places his villain firmly on the monster side of actual settler antagonism — a trophy hunter who collects Indigenous rear-view-mirror decorations from wrecks he intentionally causes, then leaves open bottles of liquor at the crash sites so the victim is blamed.

The villainy is unsubtle, yet resonant, and provides Tracy with a perfect foil to either confront or perish.

“I believe Indigenous folks deserve badass heroes, told from our own perspective,” says director Redvers. “That’s very much what the story is, a character going from victim to hero.”

The Indigenous producer-writer-director notes Cold Road is an Indigenous story with Indigenous leads, intentionally made for a mainstream audience.

Redvers drew on his own internal tensions growing up on the south shore of Great Slave Lake.

“Like Tracy, I used to hate where I grew up,” he says. “I thought it was a weakness, being from up there, but over time I started seeing it as a strength.

“This is a place the rest of the world knows very little about. That can be a huge advantage if your filmmaking goal is to transport audiences from their lives to somewhere else.”

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Most people in Alberta will recognize the environmental tension as night closes in on Tracy and the highways narrow and begin to swirl with hypnotizing snow — never mind that colossal truck trying to smash her into oblivion.

“These highways really are such a fascinating arena for drama, given their inherent danger,” says Redvers, “so once my mind latched on to that idea, it didn’t take long to strike me that these roads are an extremely compelling setting for a movie.”

Stunt-filled highway action aside, one of the film’s best-written and most harrowing scenes is between Tracy and a highway cop, who she accidentally approaches with a knife she’s grabbed from a diner to potentially confront the trucker.

Needless to say, this doesn’t go well, as Tracy has to deflect the officer’s accusations of her being drunk and play along with his casual patronizing.

“Non-native people who’ve seen it say they’ve heard Indigenous people complain about treatment they’ve received from the police, and after they’ve watched this film at festivals have said, ‘I get it now.’”

“It’s one of the most crucial scenes in the entire film,” says Supernault.

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The actor had to push for extra time for her subsequent reaction when she gets back to the car, shot in a Calgary studio separately, but her harrowing performance pays off.

“’I need you to push this to tomorrow,’” she asked, “and thank god we did because I was able to push my performance. I’m, like, beside myself in the car, you can see it.”

The emotions clearly come from somewhere real, not to be summoned lightly.

“Something we as actors get locked in is being of service, but I’ve been doing this long enough to learn if I want longevity I need to remind myself and people around me I’m doing a marathon, not a sprint,” she says, summoning the legendary Tantoo Cardinal as an inspiration.

“She’s my hero, period.”

Karibou Edmonton
Cold Road’s co-star, Karibou, who plays Pretzel. Photo by supplied

There’s one more actor Supernault has a lot of love for  — a dog named Karibou, who played Pretzel.

“He was a tremendous co-star and one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with,” Supernault laughs. “I get brought to tears not because of the context of the story but because it’s such a cherished memory of mine, where I’m crying in the car.

“And he thought I was really crying, and he started licking the tears off my face, and when it was happening it just made me want to cry more, and that’s why my crying breaks into a smile.”

She laughs about it all.

“He really brought out the best of me,” she says. “I’m very proud of him and I hope that he has a very long career.”

PREVIEW

Cold Road, directed by Kelvin Redvers

Where Edmonton City Centre Landmark Cinema, 10200 102 Ave.

When 8:35 p.m. through Tuesday

Tickets $10 at landmarkcinemas.com

[email protected]

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