STARRING TANTOO CARDINAL: AFTER NEARLY FIVE DECADES, THE CANADIAN ACTRESS FINALLY GETS HER FIRST HEADLINING FILM

For the first time in her 49-year career, Cardinal’s own name is above the title. Canadian arts organizations should pay for that. She’s earned it.

Tantoo Cardinal shines as a world-famous Anishinaabe musician who returns to the reserve to rest and recharge – only to discover that fame (and the outside world) are not easily left behind, in writer-director Darlene Naponse's portrait of resilience set among a northern First Nation.

The end credits of Falls Around Her, a starring vehicle for the Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal, finish with a long list of funding agencies that contributed to the budget. Good, I thought. It’s time.

Cardinal, 68, whose heritage includes Cree and Métis, has done her share of dispensing wisdom in one scene a film, for directors including Bruce Beresford (Black Robe) and Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), and co-stars like Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall). She’s played enough characters identified only as Sonny’s Mother or Chomina’s Wife, or Nurse or Hooker, Waitress or Old Native American Woman. In Falls Around Her, which was written and directed by Darlene Naponse, Cardinal’s character has a full name, Mary Birchbark. And, for the first time in her 49-year career, Cardinal’s own name is above the title. Canadian arts organizations should pay for that. She’s earned it.

“I’ve always had moments on screen,” Cardinal said in a phone interview from Vancouver, where she was shooting a series pilot for ABC (more on that later). She takes her time speaking – you can hear her thinking aloud – but her voice brims with good humour. “It’s cool to finally have a full arc. So often I’ve had to build my own characters, and I’m stopped before I can use it all – ‘No, that’s all we need, just that little bit.’ This time, I got to carry the whole story we were telling inside my being. What a complete feeling it was, to use everything I’ve built up inside. It was like medicine.”

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