Saskatoon’s Karma Film production company is accustomed to working on large-scale projects. Their team has amassed forty industry awards, not least among them five Geminis. One such award, this time a 2020 Canadian Screen Award for Best Visual Effects, related to their work on Brotherhood. It’s a film, released in 2019, that was partially funded by Creative Saskatchewan via a program now known as the Feature Film & TV Production Grant.
Let’s start with the array of local news and national coverage the film has received. CTV and the Regina Leader-Post, were joined by the National Post and the Globe and Mail in profiling the project and Regina’s Rainbow Cinemas, in their own last days, chose Brotherhood as the last Canadian film they would show. Alongside Karma Film’s involvement, the feature includes contributions from Saskatoon composer and conductor William Rownson. In the words of BC-based director and writer Richard Bell, as he told SaskMusic in 2021, “Tobi Lampard and her team at Creative Saskatchewan were essential in getting Brotherhood financed…Film financing is a bit of a Rubik’s Cube, but we figured out early on that a co-production between Ontario and Saskatchewan was our best strategy. We’re stronger together, which incidentally is a theme of the film.”
Brotherhood, which screened in 26 Canadian cinemas over 2022, charts the true story of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a group of young men who tried to canoe across Ontario’s Balsam lake almost 100 years ago. Their 1926 trek, which (spoiler alert) ended in tragedy, sets for a film that Bell feels is exceedingly relevant in our province. He attended a 2021 screening in Humboldt and told local reporter Rachel May that the film resonates with the togetherness needed to get through COVID-19 at its initial peak.
“It sparkles more during COVID,” Bell said at the time. “Things have been falling apart for 19 months. In the beginning, we were all in this together but it started to fade after a couple of months…Those boys in 1926, when they faced the storm there are only survivors because they came together.” According to reporting that appeared in the Humboldt Journal, Bell would go on to connect the film’s themes with the collective tragedy that was the Broncos bus crash.
Like many film projects, Brotherhood wasn’t quick to come to fruition. Bell has repeatedly shared during the promotion of the film that its origins were in 2006 when he learned of the 80th anniversary of the tragedy. As he told the Dawson Creek Mirror’s Rob Brown last November, happening upon a church service being held to commemorate those who died was his starting point.
“I usually start off by saying that I was the treasure hunter…it did feel like uncovering buried treasure because I thought the story was so dynamic and so interesting and so moving, but then I did go into shepherd mode in that it took me a very long time to court producers and convince them that it was going to be a good idea for a motion picture.”
Eventually, Bell managed to convince a creative team to back the project. Released on the eve of the country’s first wave of restrictions, Brotherhood’s journey has been more about smaller venues as opposed to large-scale film festivals. As he told Discover Humboldt, Brotherhood—though it had to work through many sticking points to get produced—rings true to many local audiences.
“Brotherhood plays really well in small towns where people feel a connection with yesteryear still and they are proud of their local histories, and they have fond memories of summer camp. So much of it has been my release plan where I connect with independent cinemas.”
It’s a part of Canadian history that Creative Saskatchewan is proud to have had a hand in preserving.
If you’re looking to get financial support for your feature film, take a look at our guidelines. If you receive the funding then you’ll be following in the footsteps of projects like Summer at Charlotte’s and Shadow of… Both the Feature Film and Television Production Grant and the SaskTel Max Equity Fund are part of a wider assortment of funding programs that include streams dedicated to music video creation and film and television development.
Written by John Loeppky