Hunting Pignut. 2017. Directed & Written by Martine Blue.
Starring Taylor Hickson, Joel Thomas Hynes, Jenn Brown, Amelia Manuel, Liam Ownes, Douglas Sullivan, Bridget Wareham, Michael Worthman, & Lisa Machin.
Produced by Paul Pope, Heidi Wagner, & Ruth Lawrence.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.
It’s hard for me to be 100% objective when it comes to Newfoundland and Labrador films, simply for the fact I’m a) from Newfoundland, and b) there aren’t a massive amount of homegrown films coming out of the province. So, it’s always partly in my interest – as someone who’s lived in this province the better part of my life, and an artist – to help support the industry. That being said, there are lots of incredible artists, of all sorts, here at home. Which means it isn’t hard to find the real talent, if you truly want to see what Newfoundland has to offer.
Writer, director, and editor Martine Blue has gifted us a fresh story out of Newfoundland and Labrador that doesn’t wear the same face as most of everything that’s come before. Hunting Pignut is a bold, honest, and raw piece of cinema. It shows the lifestyle of gutter punks, as well as the general lower class, people struggling with alcoholism, addiction, and the socioeconomic conditions of where they live.
Many tales from our province across all mediums – including the early, fantastic Gordon Pinsent film The Rowdyman – are often focused on economics, particularly the collapse of the fishery, along with many social issues surrounding it + created because of it. While there’s so much value in those stories, there’s an entire new generation of people in Newfoundland experiencing similar yet vastly different problems. Addiction and alcoholism and economic struggle aren’t new to this province; they’re old hat by now. But Blue’s able to bring a postmodern outlook to this seemingly age old story, one that begins taking a look at some of the more contemporary problems thriving right under the noses of so many people in lots of outport communities and the capital city St. John’s itself.
An immediately evident theme here is the difference between the old v. young in Newfoundland. Not so much in literal age, but in generational differences. Being a postmodern teen and living in a tiny community, such as the fictitious Black Gut, Bernice ‘Story’ Kilfoy (Taylor Hickson) has a hard time navigating life. Newfoundland, especially in the outports and smaller communities – as we call it here, ‘around the bay’ – is still a highly traditional, and often religious-leaning place. Plenty of these communities are like places out of time: not wholly of modernity quite yet, where kids grow up with one foot in a traditional world and another in a changing society.
This also sets the stage for the clash of cultures between the traditional Newfoundland way of life and the gutter punks, who are led by the eponymous Pignut (writer/actor Joel Thomas Hynes). What we see here is the changing socioeconomic face of the province. People around the bay can’t even really make a living traditionally anymore from the fishery, unless they’ve got a boat themselves, or if they’ve got connections to people who’ve long been in the industry. Many in the younger generations, post-Baby Boomer era, also don’t want to accept the traditional living of Newfoundland; they’d rather move to the big city, even if it’s only St. John’s. But when many people from those smaller communities move outward, they find that life and society become very different. Some fall between the cracks. Others willingly reject society; and this is where the biggest clash of cultures emerges.
Gutter punks are not all necessarily living that way out of necessity. Many of them are people who’ve purposefully rejected society, choosing a life of homelessness and travelling and existing outside the system. This willingness to reject society – and along with it work, school, paying taxes, et cetera – seems to go against the very fabric of the spirit of Newfoundlanders, in that we, as a culture, put our work ethic on a pedestal as being one of our most valuable assets. For many in the older generations, the gutter punk lifestyle is unimaginable. At the same time, many of them often feel the same about anyone caught in the cycle of addiction. Hunting Pignut reveals the societal prejudice and class system at work in the province, something plenty of people would argue doesn’t exist.
A large part of the film is how Bernice is, essentially, having a conversation with her father from the afterlife via a notebook belonging to Pignut. The more Bernice discovers, the more we see the hidden people of our communities, many of whom are forgotten by Newfoundland society. She dives into the world of her father, and along the way she sees a side of St. John’s upper class citizens would have you believe is total fiction: intravenous drugs, dumpster diving, homelessness, violence, and more.
Blue’s film gives a voice to the stories we don’t always hear told, the kind of stories too many are afraid to hear and the brave are out there trying to tell. Bernice’s father overdosing eventually leads to a conclusion where we start to comprehend that the lives of those we don’t necessarily understand – and sometimes may not particularly condone – aren’t just simple situations, but rather complex, emotional, and usually traumatic.
Hunting Pignut doesn’t at all imply the majority of people living a gutter punk lifestyle are addicts and alcoholics. However, Blue does a fine job in examining the cycles of addiction, how they fall into place and repeat themselves, how they become perpetuated by various forces, and ultimately how they can be broken. Pignut himself is a curious case because he’s mysterious, he is a shattered man, and you both hate and feel for him at certain points. Bernice – the most important character – is a living example of how coming of age, for some people, involves more than simply growing up, but also the discovery of personal and familial truths that aren’t always easy to uncover.
Blue does wonders with her debut feature film. It’s all the better for the fact she represents Newfoundland in such a unique light compared to other artists. I sincerely hope she’ll keep bringing the truth of life to what she writes and directs, because the honesty with which she treats the themes and our home province is so damn satisfying. Highly recommended for those who love an intense, independent drama. Plus, you’ll get a real feast for the eyes of locations from St. John’s and Witless Bay!
You can find Hunting Pignut on Google Play and iTunes.