North of 60 Interview: Tina Keeper

When I visited the Nof60 set during the filming of "Distant Drumming,"
Tina Keeper and I had a few minutes to chat during a between-scenes
photo shoot on the banks of the "Lynx" River.

"Distant Drumming"

PW: I guess the main things going on with Michelle in "Distant Drumming" are her concerns about implementing community policing, and also that her son is hanging out with a felon.

TK: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting, because I know that community policing is an issue for her in the film, but her primary concern is why Teevee wants it. She's so wrapped up in this concern that Teevee is out for revenge. She doesn't believe in his motive.

(Click on photo for larger image.)

PW: So she isn't necessarily against community policing in principle?

TK: No, no. I don't think she sees the issue of community policing as a threat to her livelihood or her position, per se. I think Teevee's reasons for wanting community policing are her major concern.

PW: But why would Teevee be out for revenge? She just saved him from an unjust jail sentence.

TK: I know, but it's because of his experience with white policing in the south, the non-Native justice system. It's his anger toward that system and how it doesn't serve Aboriginal people well.

PW: So his anger isn't against Michelle, but the Canadian justice system.

TK: Yeah. He's got this anger. He's been through this horribly unjust situation, and if it wasn't for his community, if it wasn't for his own people, he would have gotten imprisoned. Again, Michelle is aware that he's not looking at this from the larger picture of who are we as a nation and how does this fit into where we're moving as a people, in terms of self-government.

And then you put on top of that Matthew, which, for Michelle, just weights the whole issue. I think Michelle believes that [Teevee] is using him in a way that's unfair. I think she would see Matthew as someone who's not prepared to be in a community like Lynx River. That he needs more support than what we can offer him. And that Teevee is really using him to move this whole community policing issue forward in a way that's not clear, and not sensible.

The issue of community policing isn't a threat to her; it's how it's being done. It's not being done in a way that's considering the community or considering the RCMP. They have to have a dialogue. But he's sort of just forcing it, like he's trying to push this issue without the proper dialogue.

PW: In the midst of all this situation with Teevee using Matthew to push the idea of community policing, Matthew is also befriending Charlie, which is causing Michelle some concern.

TK: Definitely. I think she has fear that, she would believe that her son is somewhat vulnerable. He's not from this community. He's been with her about seven years now, but he comes from a tough place, and I think she would see him as kind of vulnerable to somebody like Matthew, that he might be easily influenced. And then there's a point a which she believes that Matthew has killed [someone], and it's kind of kicked up into real fear.

PW: Is there anything else you want to say about Michelle and "Distant Drumming"?

TK: It's interesting coming back. Her character seems angrier in this film than she has in a long time. I don't know whether she's having problems in her marriage, or what. [laughs]

PW: I was noticing in the cast list that none of the spouses are around!

TK: None of the spouses! I know, we're like, "Where are our spouses?" [laughs] As we move along and we get sort of deeper and deeper into the murder mystery--which we've been doing for all of the movies, but as we continue on in that form--we just have key players around now. So we've lost some of our children, and our spouses! [all laugh]

PW: I don't know whether there are even any references to them in the script.

TK: No, no.

PW: This movie does have a lot more continuity from the previous one than the other ones have.

TK: It does. And it also is a really fun movie to work on in terms of our guests. We just have the best guest stars on this movie. And of course George Leach has a very interesting story line. We play a sort of a game between our characters in terms of what do we know and what do we not know, and what do we want the audience to know. So it's always fun to do these murder mysteries.

PW: In addition to George Leach, you also have Jennifer Podemski and Ken Pogue this time.

TK: Jen, yeah, she's just terrific. Like I said, all of our guests are just great. And Lorne Cardinal, too. He's been part of the series, but to have his character fleshed out a bit more. And a really top story line. He's a really remarkable actor. So it's been really thrilling to do this project. There are some really meaty stories, really challenging as actors, and then the way we get to work with each other has been really fun.

PW: Do you have any scenes with Ken Pogue?

TK: I only have some really small scenes with him.

PW: So he mostly interacts with other people?

TK: Yeah, like Lorne quite a bit. Lorne's character Daniel.

PW: And I see that Michelle has her brother back this time. Is he home visiting from his MLA job?

TK: I guess he is. Yes, he's back in town. That's been a real joy. I think this film is going to look so great. I think it was so well written and allows each character to really deliver some really fun performances.

"On the Corner" and radio work

PW: Well, let's get caught up on what else you've been doing. I know that one thing is "On the Corner," the Nathan Geary film that you and Simon Baker were in. I think we could hardly find two more disparate worlds than Lynx River and East Hastings Street in Vancouver! Your part in that is...?

TK: It's very small. I was just in for a couple of scenes. But it was a great project. It was an independent feature. I know they shot on a really low budget, but their director was really committed to the project. He had a history in that area. A lot of it had to do with community work. So he has an enormous amount of respect and experience in that area.

PW: You play Simon's mother, right? I believe she abandoned him and his sister, but then finally got her life straightened out?

TK: Just recently she had done that. Recently sobered up and was wanting to go down and see her children. And then very quickly understood that they were not reachable.

PW: How long before that had she abandoned them?

TK: Oh, years. It had been years. It was the story of a very rough, tragic situation. So I just came in and gave them a couple of scenes, and it was great, great for me. I have a lot of respect for the project. I had a lot of respect for how they were doing their work. The key people were totally devoted to it. So it's a great project, and a great opportunity for Simon to do something really different. And Alex [Rice] as well. Again, she was able to play a character that's really different than what she's done.

PW: I hear it's been picked up by the Toronto Film Festival, so hopefully that'll get it a distributor. What else have you been up to? I know you do a lot of theater work.

TK: I have, in the past. I belong to a theater collective back home. I do a radio show back home. We have a native radio station [in Winnipeg] that serves the entire province. It reaches all the First Nations, and all the Metis communities.

PW: What's it called?

TK: NCI, short for Native Communications Incorporated. I have a weekly show on there called "A Vision for All," and we discuss political issues.

PW: When's that on?

TK: It's on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m.

PW: Is it live?

TK: No, it's pre-recorded.

PW: And can you pretty much do whatever you like with the show?

TK: Well, I do it on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which is a political organization, so we discuss all the issues that the organization is working on. They're the political advocacy group for First Nations in Manitoba, so it's whatever the political issues are that we're facing. A lot of times if something's critical and there's going to be a rally, that's what we'll do the show on. Try to keep the people informed about what's going on--policies that are affecting us, policy changes, legislative changes, all that sort of stuff. I really love it.

PW: How long have you been doing that?

TK: For about a year now?

PW: I also saw a newspaper article that said you might be working with the RCMP on a suicide prevention program.

TK: I am. We're doing a research project. I had in the past worked with the Aboriginal Policing branch of the RCMP in Manitoba. They delivered an adult component, and I delivered a youth component as a pilot project. Now I'm coordinating a research project on the issue of suicide in First Nations toward a prevention strategy for the region.

PW: Well, I see that they need you to get back to the set, so thank you very much, Tina.

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Text and photos (c) 2004 Patricia F. Winter.

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