Director: Shirley Cheechoo
Screenwriters: Shirley Cheechoo


Shirley Cheechoo’s Backroads is the dramatic and passionate story of a First Nations family struggling for justice and dignity. Set in the 1970s on a reservation on Manitoulin Island in Quebec, it focuses on the lives of four sisters who must confront the poverty and harsh environment of life in a stagnant and insular community in the Canadian backwoods. The difficult conditions of their lives are compounded by the abusive and entrenched prejudice of much of the local populace. Based on Cheechoo’s real-life experience, Backroads has a powerful authenticity that resonates through it and underscores its very recognizable dilemmas. When one of the sisters, Ella Lee, is attacked by her ex-employer, it triggers a sequence of murderous events that lead to her arrest and incarceration, where her life is threatened by a racist and embittered cop. The fortuitous return of her sister, Grace, who made it off the reservation and became a lawyer, offers hope for a legal remedy and an accurate recounting of the truth. But the ultimate resolution of the situation is also influenced by the proscribed and biased systems of this fractured municipality. Cheechoo’s depiction of a contentious, somewhat-dysfunctional family nevertheless produces fully realized women of great strength and pride. With a voice that is vibrant and broad ranging, sometimes angry and often humorous, Cheechoo reveals herself as a filmmaker of great talent and insight. As an all-too-rare window into a Native world that still suffers grim obstacles to basic rights yet is equally infused with enchantment and vision, Backroads is a uniquely fulfilling portrait.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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