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BFI Flare Highlights: My Prairie Home

April 7, 2014

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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If gay and lesbian cinema is a tough sale I can’t even begin to imagine how hard things are for transgender-based stories. Certainly a film like 52 Tuesdays that screened as the closing night gala at the BFI Flare after winning the Directing Award at Sundance and the Crystal Bear at the Berlinale is an encouraging example but we still have to see how it will perform upon release. Within this (even more of a) niche the transgender subgenre is, although I find all this labeling quite preposterous, My Prairie Home was a pleasant surprise offer from the BFI Flare programmers that I couldn’t applaud more than I already did after credits rolled in the theatre.

This lovely and poignant piece of filmmaking follows Montreal-based and Calgary-native singer/songwriter Rae Spoon on tour through the Canadian prairies. After a decade of living as a trans man, Spoon claimed to prefer the pronoun “they” explaining how: “after years of fighting to be called ‘he,’ the idea of coming out again made me tired. But now I feel kind of rejuvenated, ready to fight on some more. I think the ‘they’ pronoun is a pretty cool thing. It’s letting a lot of people not have to identify as a man or a woman. Whatever it means to them.”

My Prairie Home gives a delicate insight on Spoon’s difficult childhood, being raised by Pentecostal parents obsessed with the Rapture, dealing with an abusive father suffering from schizophrenia and the way all of this affected Spoon’s gender confusion. Canadian documentary filmmaker Chelsea McMullan was searching for subversive country-folk soundtrack music when someone recommended checking out Rae Spoon. The reserved musician was having a hard time opening up about personal life when McMullan offered the opportunity of making a documentary on Spoon’s life. The filmmaker suggested putting it all in writing first which led Spoon to publish the fictionalized, short story memoir collection First Spring Grass Fire and that became the base for the film.

McMullan immediately draws us into the wonderful quirks of her lively piece of docu-musical extravaganza through the colorful opening credits, pregnant with metaphorical subtext as they’re laid over an upside down, on-the-road tracking shot of the Canadian prairies that has the screen symmetrically divided between the prairies on the top half and the baby-blue sky on the bottom half. Then she gets right into business, finding Rae Spoon sat by the counter in a diner, ordering breakfast but putting her meal on hold in order to get up, guitar in hand and serenade us (and the diner’s customers) with a beautiful ballad that promptly sets the thematic tone of the film.

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Alternating interviews with live performances on tour and stylish music video renditions of some of Spoon’s delightful songs such as one shot inside the Royal Tyrrel Museum of Paleontology and another one beautifully filmed in a forest, accompanied by a choreography of dancers wearing suits and giant animal heads with an Alice In Wonderland vibe, the film takes you on an inner journey of life-affirming self discovery, self acceptance and the power of artistic expression as the only way to escape and cope. Listening to this wonderful artist talk during the post-screening Q&A was equally inspiring and rewarding and truly insightful to understand transgender people. Plus I fell in love with the witty humor, honesty and spiritual depth you can find in Spoon’s music and lyrics. Besides the cinematic enjoyment I’ve definitely become a fan of this wonderfully talented artist. If you like great music, there’s a good chance you’ll become one as well.

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor