Documentary about Cree Elder ‘The Star Guy’ to premiere at Toronto film festival

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Windspeaker.com

Lisa Jackson had an electrifying moment seven years ago, and that moment led to her latest work, a film titled Wilfred Buck.

Wilfred Buck will have its North American premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, to be screened at the TIFF Lightbox on April 26 at 8 p.m. The 92-minute film will also be shown on April 27 at 2:15 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto.

The documentary is about Buck, an Elder from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba, who is an expert on star knowledge and ceremony.

The film, adapted from Buck’s memoir, includes stories of his early life of displacement, addiction and racism to his becoming the foremost authority on Indigenous astronomy in the world.

Jackson, a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southwestern Ontario, attended a panel talk at the University of Toronto in the fall of 2017 about Indigenous astronomy. She was then told there was an affiliated two-day conference going on so she asked if she could go the following morning.

“There was a guy from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum and he said, ‘we did an exhibit on Indigenous astronomy and I (meaning he) shouldn’t be talking about it’,” Jackson said. “He was not Indigenous. ‘Wilfred Buck should be here talking about it because he was one of the co-curators of it’.

“All I can say is I heard Wilfred’s name and I got this zap. And this sentence went into my head that somebody has to make a film about Wilfred Buck. I didn’t even think it was me.”

Jackson asked exhibit officials if she could be put in touch with Buck. A couple of weeks later she had a phone conversation with him.

Buck told Jackson he had just written his life story. Though his wife and daughter were the only people that knew about it, Buck emailed Jackson his story that day.

“I just read the first page of it, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is incredible’,” Jackson said.

“It was like I was reading Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson but writing about the Indigenous experience in the north of Manitoba in the 1960s and beyond. It was this incredible time travelling look at his experience, which immediately resonated in so many ways as the Indigenous experience of colonization.”

It didn’t take Jackson long to determine that she wanted to work with Buck, who is described in the film’s publicity kit as charismatic and irreverent. His memoir, I Have Lived Four Lives, was published in 2021.

“He was so honest and funny and kind of heartbreaking all at the same time,” Jackson said. “That was when I thought I’d be the filmmaker to make this film. And I immediately saw the way that he was able to weave together all these colonial impacts into his personal narrative. And there were these scenes which kind of sprang off the page.”

Buck, who is known as ‘The Star Guy’, began working as a science facilitator with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre in 2008.

“To be honest, at the very beginning, I wasn’t sure of how much of him today there would be (in the film),” Jackson said. “I always knew there would be a lot of his history and a sense of a colonial narrative. And I always thought it should have a bit of a rock n’ roll soundtrack and really place him in the context of that era of a rock n’ roll kind of wild life but through an Indigenous lens.”

But the film also includes numerous scenes of Buck leading astronomy sessions and ceremonies.

“I have great admiration for him because he is not somebody who is seeking any sort of fame or limelight,” Jackson said. “He’s very humble. He’s a quiet, family man. But the work that he does requires him to be part of the community. And he is a leader. And so, I think that his openness to sharing his story, not because he wants people to know about him, but because it can help others is really pretty impressive.”

As well as his memoir I Have Lived Four Lives), Buck has also written Tipiskawi Kisik: Night Sky Star Stories (2018) and Kitcikisik (Great Sky): Tellings That Fill the Night Sky (2021).

The film Wilfred Buck was co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Door Number 3 Productions. Is expected to open at various theatres across the country in mid-May.

It will also be screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver on May 9. And it will open the Yorkton Film Festival in Saskatchewan on May 23.

Ticket information for Wilfred Buck for the Toronto festival is available at

https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/hot-docs-festival/films/2024/wilfred-buck

​Windspeaker.com