First Nations director hopes to raise awareness of Starlight Tours with film premiering at TIFF

Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

Eva Thomas is experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Thomas, a member of Walpole Island First Nation in southwestern Ontario, is making her directorial short film debut with Redlights, which will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) next month. The prestigious event begins Sept. 7 and continues until Sept. 17.

Redlights, which will be part of TIFF’s Short Cuts programming, will be screened twice. For starters it will have its world premiere when shown on Sept. 8 at the Scotiabank Theatre at 9:05 a.m. The 14-minute film will also be screened on Sept. 12 at 11:30 a.m., again at the Scotiabank Theatre.

“It’s an honour,” Thomas said of the fact her film is part of this year’s TIFF. “I’m excited. But it’s also terrifying.”

Redlights is about Starlight Tours, a practice that Thomas said primarily occurs in western Canadian provinces.

Starlight Tours are when police officers pick up Indigenous people and abandon them in remote locations, often in sub-zero temperatures, and are left to fend for themselves.

The film states that there have been three reported deaths because of Starlight Tours. Thomas said these three cases all happened in Saskatchewan.

Thomas, who also wrote and produced her film, is hoping Redlights brings awareness to this issue.

“It’s pretty remarkable how many people still don’t know what it is,” Thomas said. “I’d say 75 per cent of my crew (many were non-Indigenous) had not heard of that. I think in the Indigenous communities we’re fully aware of this,” Thomas said.

And it’s not as if Starlight Tours have only happened to three individuals.

“There are three known deaths,” Thomas said. “But there are many people who have lived to tell the tale and many others who didn’t want to make a complaint.”

Redlights begins with a pair of friends, Tina and Amber, played by Kaniehtiio Horn and Ellyn Jade, respectively, who head to Tina’s car after leaving a bar.

Tina, who had not been drinking, offers to go back inside the bar when Amber discovers that she had left her purse inside.

But when Tina returns she does not find Amber inside her car. Instead she is in the back of a police cruiser that is leaving the parking lot.

Tina follows the police car to a remote location where a confrontation with two officers occurs.

In her director’s statement for the film, Thomas said Redlights was a personal and ambitious project that was both challenging and rewarding to bring to life.

“As a director, shooting this film was a profound experience that allowed me to explore the emotions, histories, and realities faced by Indigenous communities in Canada,” she said.

“From the outset, I was driven by the desire to create a cinematic experience that would not only captivate audiences but also serve as a vessel for meaningful storytelling.”

Thomas is hoping that the Redlights short is just a preview of what is to come from her project. She wants to secure funding to make Redlights into a full-length feature film.

“If all works out towards my plan, hopefully we’ll have a lovely TIFF premiere (of the feature film) in two years,” she said. “Hopefully the universe is listening.”

Besides having red in the title of her short film, Thomas said she purposely featured the colour in other parts of her movie in recognition of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Amber wears a red coat in the film. And Tina’s coat is reflecting red.

“That was a conscious choice in my film,” Thomas said of the use of the colour.