TIFF 2013: Empire of Dirt – Capsule Review

Director: Peter Stebbings
Writers: Shannon Masters
Starring: Jennifer Podemski, Luke Kirby, Cara Gee, Shay Eyre
Runtime: 99 min
Rating: 14A

Empire of Dirt tells the story of Lena Mahikan (Cara Gee), a single mother who works cleaning houses. A former drug addict, she is now clean and doing social work at a community centre. Lena takes care of her daughter Peeka (Shay Eyre), a rebellious and unmotivated teenager trying to fit in and figure out her own identity. After Lena is fired from work, she decides to go back to her roots and seek solace in her hometown in rural Ontario. This move, however, doesn’t come without consequence, and she soon has to deal with the ghosts of her own troubled past. The film is of quite a serious nature, and it tackles many issues such as addiction, broken families, and the struggles of Aboriginal women. Unfortunately, the ways the issues are tackled are not very unique, and the result is a fairly standard film about a woman and the complications in her life. There is value, however, in the fact that the film stars three women of colour, who are given an identity and a voice, and who have depth in their character. This fact is extremely important because it results in a film from the perspective of a woman, and great weight is given to the relationships between mothers and daughters. The cast of the film is not extraordinary; they are clearly hesitant, and inexperience can be sensed in various scenes. The script often comes up a tad awkward, and at times the dialogue seems almost cliché. Empire of Dirt is not a transcendental film, but it carries importance due to what it represents. It is refreshing to see three women of colour starring in the film, and even if it doesn’t impress in any other way, it is valuable for this reason alone.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Photo Credit: Toronto International Film Festival