If there’s one thing filmmaker Jason Brennan hopes to accomplish with his storytelling, it’s bringing more Indigenous stories to the forefront. As a proud member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Jason seeks to ensure every step of the production process showcases Native talent. His company, Nish Media, has always prioritized an Indigenous workforce, and his latest horror thriller, L’Inhumain, was partly filmed in Anishinaabeg Territory.
L’Inhumain stars Samian as Mathieu, a brilliant and wealthy neurosurgeon who must return to his home in the Anishinaabe Territory following his father’s death. What could be a restorative getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life morphs into a terrifying trip when Mathieu discovers he’s the prey of the Wendigo.
I had the privilege of chatting with Jason about what inspired him to write L’Inhumain, his desire to showcase an Indigenous genre film off the beaten path, what audiences can expect and more.
This interview is condensed for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s Jason Brennan’s origin story?
Jason Brennan: My parents are from an hour and 15 minutes north of Ottawa in Canada. My dad is First Nations, and my mom is Québécois, so I speak French and English. I grew up with both those cultures being part of who I am and who I would become later.
I’d go to school in the city in Ottawa, then I’d go back for most of my summers and, on weekends, back to my home community of Kitigan Zibi. I call it KZ because that’s what we call it. KZ is where I did most of my growing up.
Storytelling for Indigenous people has always been there, and it’s an integral part of who we are, whether it’s all types of stories, from funny to not-so-funny to serious. It’s a way to teach. It’s a way to get people to understand life. That’s what shaped who I became.
That’s when my interest in filmmaking started. Since 14, I have wanted to get into filmmaking as a director and writer. That was put on hold because you grow and are not sure you can make a living out of it. Eventually, when I returned to school, I decided to give it a shot, and it worked out.
MM: Let’s talk about L’Inhumain. Can you tell me what it’s about and what inspired you to create it?
JB: L’Inhumain is the story of a successful neurosurgeon, also half-French, half-First Nations. He’s had to move away from home to pursue his career. Because of a traumatic experience when he was home, he wanted to leave that behind. Then, he’s forced to go back home when his father passes away, and he’s got to deal with his past demons.
It’s the story of the Wendigo. From what I’ve been told, the Wendigo is always around us, and it’s keeping an eye out for people who have given into those vices and have slowly lost grip with their human side. In our protagonist’s case, that’s what happens. Although he’s got a successful career, a great family and everything going for him, he’s trying to fill a void left after leaving home.
That’s a cultural void, mostly. He’s trying to fill that with different vices, whether women, drugs, drinking or anything else. Then, the Wendigo manifests itself in a more obvious way later in our story as he returns home.
MM: Describe this film using three words.
JB: I’d say a “smart rollercoaster ride.”
MM: Can you elaborate on your hope of bringing forward an Indigenous genre film from a perspective off the beaten path?
JB: I think we’re in a … I don’t want to say a Renaissance because it’s taking for granted what’s been done in the last 10 years. But right now, we’re in a spot where so many incredible Indigenous stories are on TV and in film. We see it more in the English community, but we don’t see it that much in Québec, in the French community.
There are great stories there, but we’re also in a bit of a race against time. Many different stories take the shape of Indigenous stories that are not told by Indigenous creators.
I wanted to tell a story before anybody else had a chance to tell it. I was able to do it, but there was also another Wendigo film that came out last year. We’re trying to make sure our stories get out there and that people understand there’s depth in these stories. We want to give a better look at the Indigenous experience in North America. I think that’s what these stories allow us to do.
MM: What can audiences expect when they watch L’Inhumain?
JB: I think they’re going to find a bit of everything. They will find some scares, humor, real experiences or characters they can relate to. Although it’s set half in our main character’s home, there are things everybody can relate to in terms of small-town life or family life.
MM: What has this creative process been like for you?
JB: It’s been really fun. When I decided to go back to school to be a writer/director — this was maybe 22 years ago — I went in, and by the time I came out, there were no Indigenous producers. I’m known more as a producer here in Canada.
I had to become a producer because nobody wanted to do that type of content. I was able to cut my teeth by doing a bit of directing but also understanding the business dynamics and producing.
That helped me out because this is my first film. I was well insulated. I was better equipped to tell the story, put the money where it needed to be and understand how to reach a wider audience. For that, I was lucky. Being on set as a producer allowed me to learn from other people’s mistakes. I knew how to pick a great crew, and a lot of credit goes to my crew. That’s what helped me out.
MM: Do you relate to the lead character, Mathieu, in any way? Did you incorporate your own experiences while writing the script?
JB: Oh, for sure. Everybody in the film is based on somebody or a bunch of different people I know. The father’s based on one of my uncles and some of the way he speaks.
I wanted to dig deeper into the Wendigo story, but I could get behind the metaphors when it comes to losing your culture. In the film, we see a creature. But behind that symbolism, there’s the fact that when you’re an Indigenous person and forced to leave your community for work or school, something eats that cultural side of you to a certain extent. Either you’re fighting to keep that alive, or you’re giving in.
To me, those were the things I could relate to; although you think you’re doing the right thing and you’re happy, you feel like something is missing. That’s what I wanted to explore.
MM: What do you hope viewers take away from L’Inhumain?
JB: First and foremost, I hope they have a good time. I hope they enjoy the film and say, “Wow, that was another way I didn’t think.” When I see a good movie, I always want to find out more. Whether it’s about the Wendigo, Indigenous culture or other filmmakers. I wanted to make a film that would leave people wanting to know more.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
JB: We have a series that came out in Québec that will be playing in prime time in September. We got into a major festival with that series, which is in September. I think I’m going to produce for the next year. I’m already working on another potential story. I’m not sure if it will be a series or a film, but I’m going to look at a UFO encounter from an Indigenous perspective.
MM: Name your favorite films.
MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Jason. Congratulations on L’Inhumain!
JB: Thank you, Melody!
You can follow Jason on Instagram (@jaybrennan77). If you’re in Canada, you can catch L’Inhumain on all major VOD platforms.
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