This 19th-century mystery thriller is set before European contact on the Pacific Northwest islands of Haida Gwaii. There, two extended families on an annual fishing trip are torn apart by internal conflicts and a fateful storm. When an exiled nobleman descends into madness, he is transformed into Gaagixid—a mythical “wild man” caught between natural and supernatural worlds. As he struggles to survive, the families return to restore his humanity and heal their broken community. The first feature film about the Haida people, Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife) is a catalyst for the revitalization of the Haida language and culture. The film features a fully Haida cast (trained in the language by fluent speakers and elders) as well as sets, costumes, and props from traditional Haida craftspeople. In Haida with English subtitles. 2018, Haida Nation/Canada, DCP, 100 minutes.
The mystery-thriller, directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, started as a collaboration with the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Inuit film production company Kingulliit, and the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN). We hope the film will be a catalyst for language revitalization as well as community economic development. In 2012, fewer than one per cent of the Haida were fluent in the Haida language and most of those were over the age of 70, so the language was regarded as in crisis.
Before the coasts took their form, before the glaciers disappeared, before trees grew, Haida ancestors lived among the SGaana (supernatural beings) in Haida Gwaii. Since then generations of kuuniisii (Haida ancestors) have memorized and recited a canon of oral histories called K’aygang.nga. These describe how supernaturals established themselves in the forms of plants, animals, reefs, rivers, and mountains. A nationwide effort strives to advance Haida language on all fronts: in public schools, with college education, through mentor/apprenticeship efforts, using Haida immersion programs, and much more. As individuals and as a nation, we are working hard to ensure our children speak the language of our ancestors. SGaawaay K’uuna is just a part of the inspirational legacy our elders and ancestors have entrusted to the current generation. Fluent elders carefully translated our script into three Haida dialects. Our fully-Haida cast trained rigorously with dedicated fluent speakers, who coached them in memorizing, pronouncing, and expressing their lines.
We worked with expert weavers and professional costume designers to provide audiences with an accurate view of our people as they appeared before Haayhiilas, the smallpox genocides of 1862. A team assembled a set of historically accurate tools and technology. Some are new creations and others are centuries-old objects our ancestors passed down to us. Many accomplished language champions, carvers, and weavers appear in the film wearing the clothes and using the items they created themselves. We hope our joint effort will allow audiences to peer into the lives of our ancestors, who lived among the beautiful objects that reflect their dignity and excellence.
—Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown