Portraits from a Fire – A new classic

Portraits from a Fire reveals the impact of intergenerational trauma. | Photos courtesy of Trevor Mack

Portraits from a Fire is a film focused on a young boy, Tyler, who uses the power of cinema to unravel the secrets of his reserve.

Through this journey, one sees the loneliness that Tyler faces due to having an unstable household as his father is distant and his mother is deceased. This loneliness fuels Tyler to seek comfort with his camera, and, through this process, the impact of intergenerational trauma is seen. The characters’ presence, realness and vulnerability, caught through this youthful lens, enable viewers to relate to them all.

Portraits from a Fire has been on demand since Nov. 9 on all major platforms. The film is directed by Trevor Mack and features William Lulua as Tyler.

Universality and recognition

Mack reflects on the lessons he learnt through filming Portraits from a Fire, which he simply states are “stamina, gratitude, preparation.” The fruits of these lessons are visible as the film has been recognized by the Edmonton International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival.

What excites Mack even more is that the film is being played in Indigenous communities.

“Laughter is the medicine that has got us through colonialism and attempted genocide by the church and the federal government,” Mack says.

The widespread support from many different communities is due to what Mack describes as the “universal story with endearing characters.”

There is no hint or mention of residential schools or any semblance of shaming others. Thus, this story can be applied to families around the world. The universality of the film is complemented by the technical attention which Mack credited the team for.

Portraits from a Fire reveals the impact of intergenerational trauma. | Photos courtesy of Trevor Mack

Trauma and Truth

Intergenerational trauma, says Mack, is the root of Tyler’s decision making process. Preconceived notions in his reserve have shaped his mindset accordingly. Because of his youth and lack of maturity, he does not have the proper tools or knowledge to navigate the reality. Throughout the film, Tyler’s reality is shattered and “rebuilt again with the Truth” as Mack says.

The Truth is a touchy subject for many people and Mack says that “we are all on our own paths of seeing the Truth. Some take more drastic steps in order to seek it than others.”

The main message of this film is related to the Truth.

“In order to see the Truth, we must spiritually die and become reborn. Our entire preconceived notions of reality and our personality must be shattered in order to learn the Truth. And our ancestors are here to help us on this journey. This is why when we have medicine ceremony, we call on the support of our ancestors; because they know. And they want to help,” he says.

The magic of filming

For Mack, it was a dream to film his debut feature film in the community he calls home. At the Tl’etinqox Reserve, there is an appreciation for imagination and storytelling.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful learning experience that is now shared with so many of our people. I believe the film was an example of what can be created when we all come together among a singular vision and what delayed gratification and investment can become,” he says.

Portraits from a Fire reveals the impact of intergenerational trauma. | Photos courtesy of Trevor Mack

The biggest factor of the delayed gratification was the pandemic. It spiked fear throughout the community due to the constant red alerts and death counts. The media did not ease anyone’s fear either during the filming process. But, the reality is that Mack was glad “we all didn’t die.”

“Life actually gets better the more you age. Don’t be afraid to mess up because you will learn from those mistakes and become a better person. Take psychedelic medicines to expand your consciousness and see the truth of our reality and de-condition yourself from the western colonial matrix of oppression that has been going on for more than 2,000 years. You are not separate from the world and nature,” says Mack.

For more information please visit: