Angelique’s Isle: Angelique Abandoned Becomes a Feature-Length Film
Michelle Derosier on right and director Marie-Helene Cousineau on left, photo credit Morningstar Derosier.
#LSN+Arts Angelique’s Isle: Angelique Abandoned
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO May 5, 2017 (LSN) Angelique Mott’s story may have taken place over 170 years ago, but her strength and perseverance hold messages that are still relevant today. Author James R. Stevens’ novella, Angelique Abandoned, follows the story of 17-year-old Angelique Mott, a Metis woman who was left for dead by copper hunters on Isle Royale during the winter of 1845-46. Armed only with a few primitive tools and the traditional knowledge passed down by her Indigenous mother, Angelique survived the winter that claimed the life of her husband.
Stevens had known about this true story for some time before he wrote and released the novella’s first edition in 2009. What surprised him was how the story surfaced in his mind, demanding to be written. “I was out in Calgary researching another book on Norval Morriseau, the artist, and I was sitting at my brother-in-law’s table one day and the Angelique story just took me over,” he says.
A fictionalized account of the Angelique story, as Stevens fondly calls it, was a natural progression from his background in historical nonfiction. Over the course of decades, conducting research for his previous works gave him the opportunity to interview dozens of Indigenous elders and artists. Cornell-educated Stevens refers to these meetings as an “education in Native culture”. This knowledge allowed him to write Angelique Abandoned with a sense of ease and familiarity.
Michelle Derosier, president of Thunderstone Pictures and the screenwriter of Angelique’s Isle, felt equally drawn to the story. In a manner that echoes traditional Indigenous storytelling, Angelique’s Isle evolved for Derosier through a series of conversations. She discussed the idea initially with Stevens and Thunderstone Pictures vice-president Dave Clement. Later, the conversations broadened to include co-producer Amos Adetuyi of Circle Blue Films, director Marie-Helene Cousineau and cinematographer Celiana Cardenas. “There’s a real collective vision that goes with this type of storytelling; it’s not something that you keep to yourself,” she says.
Derosier’s affinity for both collaboration and screenwriting paid off. Angelique’s Isle was awarded Best Screenplay at the 2015 Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards. More recently, the film received CBC Breaking Barriers funding.
Angelique’s Isle is currently in development, with spring filming scheduled to begin in May 2017. Derosier takes pride in the involvement of a talented, cross-cultural group of women in all aspects of the film’s production. “I’m a community activist at heart. I love community, I love what it brings, and I love engaging in a community way and in a collective way with people. So I’ve been very lucky with this production that we’ve been able to do that in a very respectful and powerful way,” she says.
Derosier, who takes pride in her Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation heritage, connects with Angelique’s story on a personal level. Angelique’s resiliency served as an anchor for Derosier as she came to terms with other true and painful stories. “There was something happening for me at the same time as listening, hearing and engaging in this process of murdered and missing Indigenous women. I also had this story of Angelique, and something was so compelling and it was holding on to me so strongly because I think she’s a reminder. She’s a reminder for me of how incredibly strong we are as women,” says Derosier.
For Stevens, Angelique presents a strong role model who is not only female, but also Metis. “It was important for me that Angelique be portrayed as having Western and Indigenous origins,” says Stevens, “Angelique belongs to the first truly Canadian cultural group in Canada.” Angelique’s maiden name, Cadotte, can be traced back to a group of voyageurs from the south shore of Lake Superior who married into Indigenous families.
It is appropriate that the second edition of Angelique Abandoned was illustrated by Cree Stevens, a Metis artist from Thunder Bay. Her illustrations of wildlife seem to echo Angelique’s own starvation-fuelled visions in the dead of winter, and provide hope when spring arrives.
There is an enduring quality to Angelique’s experience that is hauntingly portrayed in Steven’s novella and eagerly anticipated in Angelique’s Isle. “I think that Angelique is this heroine that can represent so many women,” says Stevens.