Bedard (photo by Bob Hallinen)
Alaska Native actress and producer Irene Bedard plans to bring
a film version of "Two Old Women" to theaters. Shooting could start
as early as next spring.
Bedard, a Golden Globe winner, has been a featured actress and
done voice work in several wide-release movies and television shows,
playing the lead female character in "Smoke Signals," voicing the
title character in Disney's "Pocahontas" and portraying Pocahontas'
mother in "The New World," among other roles.
"Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend Of Betrayal, Courage And Survival,"
by Gwich'in author Velma Wallis of Fort Yukon, tells an ancient
tale of two elders abandoned by their tribe during a difficult winter.
It won the Western States Book Award when it was released in 1993
and is reported by publisher Epicenter Press to have sold 1.5 million
Bedard, of Inupiat, Yup'ik and Cree heritage, is the president
of Sleeping Lady Films, based in Anchorage and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
She initially announced the project before a small crowd attending
play readings at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts on Monday
night. "I'm jumping the gun on this," she said. "The official announcement
won't be until later this week. But I can't tell you how happy I
am to be back in Alaska and to be doing this film."
There was an audible gasp from the audience.
"I love the excitement around 'Two Old Women,'" she told Alaska
Dispatch News. "I love the ownership of this story. It's an international
story and it's so Alaskan."
Though she has often had to travel and relocate for her work,
she now lives in Anchorage and is an Alaska resident.
She co-founded the company in 2012 with Canadian businessman
In a phone call from British Columbia, Denomme said he met Bedard
when he prevailed on her to take part in the pilot episode of a
Native American-themed cooking, culture and travel show, "Reservations
"We had some time to talk over different things that have to
do with Indian country and the film industry and how Native people
are portrayed and we agreed that there must be a better way to do
this," he said.
"We realized that we worked so well together, we should focus
on what I was really hoping to do," Bedard said.
Their meeting led to the creation of Sleeping Lady Films and
a second company, Waking Giants Productions, which focuses on television
and new media projects "dedicated to bringing stories that are both
positive and inspirational from Indian country to the world."
Since then, Bedard and Denomme have been looking for creative
ideas that fit that mission.
In addition to her work in show business, Bedard is also active
in indigenous causes. She's the delegate of the American Indian
Enterprise and Business Council to the United Nations.
"Alaska Natives, Native Americans, indigenous people, we all
come from the tribal mind," she said. "We're all, as a collective
mind, coming back around to these sorts of realizations that we're
not separate from the Earth, even though we've covered it with a
lot of pavement.
"I've had a long career portraying Native people, working with amazing
people on projects I believed in. But I felt like there was a huge
gap in the portrayal of indigenous people and culture. There's so
much laughter and joy and beauty and art, all these things that
oftentimes get missed in particular content."
"We've put together a fairly strong body of projects that would
be shot all over North America," Denomme said. "But Two Old
Women' is one we're really excited about."
Denomme said he and Bedard were attending a powwow in Montana
when he stumbled upon the story. "There was this woman selling books
at a table and I saw 'Two Old Women.' I'd never heard of it before.
I showed it to Irene and she said, 'That's an Alaska classic.'"
It immediately went to the top of the team's wish list and they
acquired the film rights.
The script is now being developed and Denomme hopes filming
will start in the late spring or summer of 2016.
"We'd like to shoot two versions, one in English, one in Gwich'in,"
he said. "Everyone acting in it is going to be Alaskan."
He was less certain, however, that it would be made in Alaska.
"It would be a sin not to shoot it in Alaska. We're hoping it will
be filmed in Alaska, but we don't know about the situation with
tax credits. It changes depending on who you're talking to or what
day it is."
The Alaska Legislature is currently considering ending a state
incentive to filmmakers as a way to save money.
Bedard is also involved with a second production about the Barrow
High School football team titled "Touchdown on the Tundra."
"She's going to have a prominent role," said Honnie Korngold
of Cinevantage, the production company that is making the film.
"We just met at Sundance a few weeks ago. But she's a phenomenal
actress, very well respected."
Bedard will be an executive producer of the film as well as
an actor. "I think it's awesome to have women producing a story
about football," she said.
Some preliminary shooting was done last fall in Fairbanks, Korngold
said. But the main work is planned to be done in Barrow.
"The town has shown it has the people and resources to do this
kind of thing," she said. But, she added, "We are hopeful that your
governor will maintain the film incentives the way they are."