Bretten Hannam had a frustrating childhood without realistic queer and Two-Spirit role models in the films he watched.
But the Nova Scotian director, of L'nu/Ojibwe/Scottish descent, has now found representation on-screen by creating it in his own films.
"Telling LGBTQ+ stories has been so huge for me. I began making queer content with actors who were Indigenous and who were readily available to help tell these stories," he said.
"I realized so much queer cinema -- when it did exist -- was so heavy. They had tragic gay tropes, and I wanted to make films that could resonate. I'm naturally drawn to this content."
Growing up, Hannam knew he was different. He would find himself disassociating from what he was seeing all around him.
"Watching TV or movies, I'd reimagine the stories or hope the films would have no love interest at all, because it was all heterosexual. I could impose myself more on the character if there wasn't any relationship," he said.
"When I started to grow up, it took two weeks in the country to download any sort of film, and I didn't have anything really available until moved to Halifax and went to Video Difference."
One of the first times he felt represented was watching The Hanging Garden, a coming-out story by local queer fixture Thom Fitzgerald.
"I was trying so hard to get away from gay stereotypes. I remember watching that film and loving it," he said. "The subject matter was so important, and it just stuck with me."
Hannam went to NSCAD and honed his craft, but experienced some difficulties along the way.
"Some people were supportive, but I got people who wouldn't outright discourage my efforts, but who would make an effort to support things that weren't Indigenous or queer in nature. It was this gentle, subtle side of homophobia," he said.
"There were projects I was encouraged not to pursue, but when you tell me I can't do something, I lock my jaw down even harder."
He now runs Mazewalker Films out of Kespukwitk, Mi'kma'ki (Nova Scotia), and after a number of successful short films, he made his action-thriller debut feature film North Mountain.
While his more independent works left him with a lot of control, the same could not be said for North Mountain, a huge success on the festival circuit.
"It's always hard with your first feature. I wrote for four or five years, and things changed so much when getting funding," he said.
"When we made the film, we shot for 13 days, which was less than my NSCAD final film took. It was so hectic, and it wouldn't have been possible without this super professional, amazing cast and crew.
Despite Hannam's revelations during shooting and the compromises he made to shoot the film, he's proud of the product.
With a run at the Atlantic International Film Festival (FIN), a cross-country tour at a number of queer festivals, and numerous accolades, it seems critics and audiences loved the film too.
But next time, he says he'll remember the value of sticking to his guns and making a film he's totally happy with.
"I'm working on my next short film, Wildfire, a Two-Spirit road movie that will be ten minutes in length. I'm excited to do things my way, and not conform to the regimented filmmaking system so much," he said.
The film is about a duo of Two-Spirit, half-brothers -- one Indigenous and one white -- who grow up estranged from their mother. They live somewhere not accepting of their race and sexuality, and one day steal their father's truck and go in search of their mother.
Along the way, they pick up another Two-Spirit older boy, and a relationship develops between the protagonist and the traveling companion.
Hannam is doing things so different that auditions for the two main parts -- being done in N.B. and N.S. communities -- is way outside the norm.
"We are just having conversations and asking people why they relate to the material, as well as other things. Oral tradition is strong in our culture, and I thought this would be a better way," he said.
"I can't wait to bring more stories with queer and Two-Spirit themes out, and I want to work with people who bring the script to life and find the nuances of the story appeal to them."