Summer Testawich returned home an unexpected star, as the 10-year-old visted to her birthplace for the local debut of the film Bones of Crows.
“At the start, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Summer of her audition for the role. She spoke to Black Press Media outside the theatre before she attended the local pre-theatrical screening of the film in Williams Lake on Dec. 8.
“I auditioned and then I was like ‘whatever, if we get it, we get it,’” she said of her initial attitude. Summer did not have dreams of becoming an actress and had only ended up auditioning almost accidentally.
Summer’s friend, who also had a role in the film, is an aspiring actress and wanted to get some photographs taken to apply for roles, and because it was less expensive to get photos taken for two, Summer’s mom Cricket Testawich agreed to share the cost to have some nice photos of her daughter.
Her photo went to the casting director for Bones of Crows, and she and her friend both ended up getting roles in the film.
“It was a really big adventure to start,” explained Cricket.
“Everybody becomes really close in the film, so it’s like you have this other family now,” she said, describing how the mostly Indigenous cast and crew helped support the young cast members.
“Even though the movie is really heavy, it was a really safe environment -and so as a mom, watching Summer film, she was wrapped in careful consideration,” said Cricket.
In the film, Summer plays the young version of Cree matriarch Aline Spears, a residential school survivor, and the film is described as “a powerful indictment of the abuse of Indigenous peoples as well as a stirring story of resilience and resistance.”
Three actresses portray Spears at different stages in her life, and Summer had to depict some very tough scenes, but Summer said director Marie Clement and the film’s producers gave her tools to help her differentiate herself from the character. As the next generation coming up, Cricket said young people can tell this story because they are surrounded in love, which separates them from the trauma of what happened.
“Whatever happened to Aline in the story didn’t happen to me,” said the young actress. After nearly every scene, Summer explained she was smudged off and there was always an elder on set to help support the actors.
Another tool to help Summer differentiate herself from the character was to imagine herself as different animals.
“When I was inside residential schools for Aline, I was a turtle into the shell, and when I was out riding the horse or with my family, I was a horse, riding free.”
“The final result was amazing,” said Summer enthusiastically, of the film she has now been to more than once with it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival and in Kamloops, as part of the tour to show the film pre-theatrically in locations where people experienced trauma due to residential schools.
Shooting the film took months, but Summer got a break part way, and actually worked on another project during the break.
“It was a really big honour to get the role and I met a lot of nice people,” said Summer, who was born in Williams Lake but now lives in Penticton with her mom.
“It was really powerful for us to come to Williams Lake, because that’s where our roots are, so it’s amazing to be surrounded by our friends and family who have watched the journey in Summer,” said Cricket “It’s a coming home.”