Big Bear

BIG BEAR (1998)
Director: Gil Cardinal
CBC-TV (Canada) four-hour mini-series – aired 03 to 04 January 1999
Character’s Name: Wandering Spirit

A four-hour historic drama mini-series on the life of Plains Cree chief Big Bear, adapted from Rudy Wiebe’s award-winning novel, “The Temptations of Big Bear.” In this made-for-TV movie, Chief Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa in Cree), portrayed by Gordon Tootoosis (Legends of the Fall, North of 60), fights for justice for his people and resists signing away ancestral rights for a reserve. The series recounts his struggle as he tries desperately to keep his people together and maintain their traditional way of life. It is also an emotional look at how one family was torn apart by the forces of history and one man’s quest. Tantoo Cardinal (Smoke Signals, Dances with Wolves) as Big Bear’s wife, as well as Michael in the role of war chief Wandering Spirit (Kapapamahchakwew in Cree), leader of the Rattler Lodge, star in this powerful production.

With a budget of $8.5 million, Big Bear is the biggest Native TV project produced in Canada to date, said Doug Cuthand, one of four producers of the mini-series. “It’s a story about the Cree people and the fact that an unprecedented number of actors are Cree is very important, something that Gil Cardinal was very aware of when he was casting. (It was an incredible experience to again work with a native director.) It’s totally unique and brings in a whole different take on the cultural perspective. The fact that he has the same perspective (as the actors) makes for a smoother path. You’re not butting heads, and, in a weird way, it’s not about cultural issues at all. We can just concentrate (on acting and) on making a great film.” Michael, quoted in an article in Saskatchewan Sage by Pamela Green.

Michael says, “I was so proud to be part of this movie. I made many great friends on the crew and in the cast as well. It was my first real chance to work beside Gordon Tootoosis and Tantoo Cardinal. I have so much respect for them and the path their generation created by opening up the field of acting for Indians many years ago. Also I got a chance to practice my French, which is very rusty. It was my first time since high school.”

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