Empire of Dirt

(Canada, 2013, 99 mins, DCP)
CAST Cara Gee, Shay Eyre, Jennifer Podemski, Luke Kirby, Jordan Prentice, Lawrence Bayne, Michael Cram


Lena (Cara Gee) has worked long and hard to turn her life around. A teenage runaway and single mom, she went through drug addiction and came out the other side. Now in her late twenties, she’s making ends meeting by working as a cleaner and donating her services as a counselor at a youth center. But it’s a precarious balance, and when her headstrong 13-year-old daughter Peeka (Shay Eyre) turns up in hospital after an overdose Lena reluctantly heads back home to rural Ontario and introduces Peeka to the grandmother she had always claimed was dead.

This affecting portrait of three generations of Cree women smacks of authenticity and truth. It’s a low-key movie about mother-daughter relationships and the way past mistakes have a way of cycling back round again no matter how hard you try to run away from them. All three actresses impress, but perhaps the stand out is Jennifer Podemski as the grandmother, Minnie, who has learned to roll with the punches and now makes her living selling manure, an appropriately earthy and guardedly optimistic metaphor.

"Beautifully shot, newcomers Gee and Eyre are revelations, and the central theme of cultural pride is stirring and urgent." Glenn Sumi, Now Toronto

"Finely crafted… A trio of gorgeous performances from the three female leads…" Katherine Monk, Canada.com