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This article was published 16/6/2011 (3615 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg filmmaker Winston Moxam died in April and left a fitting testament to his career with his final feature film Billy.
Moxam's films may have been characterized by modest production values, but his ambitions were magnificently outsized, and his mission --to discuss the subtle and not so subtle strains of racism in Canada -- was passionately conveyed.
In partnership with writer-actor Ernesto Griffith, Billy gave Moxam his most dramatic, yet reality-based subject.
The film's framing device has a '60s newspaper journalist (Robert Huculak) sent to a retirement home in The Pas to interview an elderly black man about his life in Canada.
Billy Bieyoal (played by Griffith) is the university-educated son of a mixed-race couple. After escaping a near-lynching in his Minneapolis home, Billy emigrates to Canada on the promise of free farm land.
Swan River, Manitoba may have its share of racists, but over the course of his eventful life, Billy does find love with a rebellious girl named Jane (Sarah Constible), friendship with his fellow farmer Gus (Gord Tanner), and even a paternalistic bond with a troubled aboriginal boy named Thomas (played as a youth by Michael Peterson and as an adult by Akalu Meekis).
While many deem him strange, his university education makes Billy the go-to guy when the community requires a more worldly hand. And his stature within the community grows with each passing decade.
In the role of Billy, Griffith is a solid presence, gamely taking on the challenges of the role, including aging more than six decades, with sheer force of will. He certainly holds his own with a supporting cast which includes, well, just about every actor of note in the city of Winnipeg.
The end of the film, in which Billy's life is celebrated decades after his death with an exhibition of his photography, is sincerely moving in the context of Moxam's own passing. Doubtless, Moxam did not intend this, but it is a happy accident that the film should so aptly celebrate a man who toiled in relative obscurity, but left such a vivid imprint of his presence on this earth.
Change the name, and the story is the same.
Directed by Winston Moxam
3 out of five stars
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.