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Teen struggles with identity, ancestry in ‘The Lesser Blessed’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Anita Doron didn’t know what to expect when she took on the project for “The Lesser Blessed.”

Having made films before, Doron forayed into adapting the screenplay from Richard Van Camp’s novel of the same name.

“I read the novel in one sitting and then approached Richard about adapting the book for film. When Richard let me adapt the book, I was excited,” she says. “The challenge then was to create a story from beginning to end by using his diary-styled writing in the novel.”

The “Lesser Blessed” follows Larry Sole, a teenager living in a small, remote community in Canada, as he deals with life as a high school student. Sole is played by Joel Nathan Evans. His life is full of too many parties, too much drinking and not enough responsibility or independence. The film explores several typical teen issues, such as alienation and the search for one’s own identity. But in this case from the perspective of a Tlicho Indian who struggles between his Native ancestry and finding his place in the modern world.

“The Lesser Blessed” will open the 2013 Native Cinema Showcase at the Santa Fe Indian Market. It’s the 13th year that the showcase has been held and it features some of the best Native American and indigenous filmmakers from around the world.

Doron can’t attend the event but is looking forward to getting feedback from the showcase.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what people think about it,” she says. “It’s always nice to get all types of feedback on the film. This became a labor of love while I was working on it. While writing, I wanted to be compelling. Then when I directed, I wanted to visually tell a good story.”

If adapting the novel to a screenplay wasn’t enough, Doron had to find the right actors for the roles. She says searching for the actor to play Larry was an rigorous undertaking and took months.

Filmmaker Anita Doron: Adapted book for film

Filmmaker Anita Doron: Adapted book for film

“I knew that the actor had to be an unknown, first-time actor. And he had to be from the First Nation,” she says. “I also knew that this was a meaty role for the right person. We actually went to some schools up in northern Canada and were able to find some great people. Then I saw Joel and convinced him to audition. Joel had every characteristic of Larry and I knew he just had to be in the movie. With convincing, he auditioned, nailed it and was cast.”

Another big and exciting moment for Doron was when she got actor Benjamin Bratt to attach himself to the project.

Doron says after seeing the film “Pinero” she was convinced that Bratt had to be part of “The Lesser Blessed.”

“I sent him the script and he read it and loved it,” she says. “I knew he would bring out the best in the younger actors in creating a great film. Once he was on set, he was generous and took the cast under his wing. He brought out the best in people and challenged them to reach their potential. Benjamin was a great find for the project and one that I’m also really proud of.”

From left, Benjamin Bratt stars as Jed and Joel Evans is Larry Sole in “The Lesser Blessed.”

From left, Benjamin Bratt stars as Jed and Joel Evans is Larry Sole in “The Lesser Blessed.”

Doron filmed in the winter of 2011 in northern Ontario for less than a month. She says the cast and crew became a family.

“This is a story that resonates with a lot of people,” she says. “The message is universal and I think more people will enjoy this as it screens more places.”

Doron says she was looking to have a very gothic, heavy look to the film. There were many scenes where fire was incorporated into them.

“It’s a dark story and I wanted it to visually come off that way,” she says. “As we got closer to finishing, we went into post-production to do the special effects. As we looked at the footage, I realized that any effects would have been superfluous because the footage that we had was very natural.”

“The Lesser Blessed” has screened at various film festivals around the world and Doron hopes to obtain distribution for the film.

“Right now, we’re gaining momentum with the film on the festival circuit,” she says. “It’s important to keep pushing the film so more people will get to see Larry’s story.”

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