REVIEW: Bootlegger puts socio-political issues in a Canadian first nations reserve at the forefront

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A Canadian first nations reserve community grapples with questions of alcohol prohibition and self-determination in Bootlegger from filmmaker-artist Caroline Monnet. Bootlegger makes its Australian debut at Sydney Film Festival tonight.

Bootlegger SFF 2022 Review

Law student Mani (Devery Jacobs, Reservation Dogs) returns to the reservation where she grew up to complete investigations for her thesis. She is not entirely welcomed back into the community with some seeing her as just like the others coming to take and then leave. She stirs up community debate about allowing alcohol into the community, which has banned alcohol for a long, long time. She encourages residents of the reserve to consider taking their own power back referring to the laws harking back to a time when they had to give up their own identity and become Canadian citizens in order to vote, and to drink.


The head councillor of the band stands firm not wanting to relinquish her power. Mani encourages a referendum to allow the people to decide. The local policeman doesn’t want more alcohol in his community. The town’s bootlegger, Laura (Pascale Bussières), is not happy with the public sentiment and possibility that she will no longer have a lucrative side-hustle in the town which until now has turned a blind eye to her illegally bringing alcohol onto the reserve.


Bootlegger is an interesting film that presents both sides of the story without ever judging or forcing a view upon us. We are not being forced to accept Mani’s argument that having government-controlled alcohol sales could actually bring in revenue and allow the community to take back control. Rather, it simply opens up the matter for debate and puts the question into the hands of everyone in the community.

Devery Jacobs and Pascale Bussières are impressive in their roles fighting for opposing sides of the argument – not that Laura would want to vote yes to a referendum on allowing alcohol – that would stop her making as much money. Rounding out the cast are Brigitte Poupart, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Joshua Odjick, Jacques Newashish, Dominique Pétin and Samian.


Bootlegger was filmed at the First Nations reserve Kitigan Zibi, Tiohtiake /Mooniyang and their environs. Set against the harsh bleak winters of Quebec, there is impressive cinematography highlighting the wilderness of the landscape with its iced over lakes and snow-covered countryside. The soundtrack is quite unusual with squeals, squeaks, whispers and chanting appearing over instrumental tracks.


The information provided for the film is that English, French and Anishinaabemowin are spoken. The majority of the film is in French. We are unable to verify whether it is Anishinaabemowin that is spoken or in fact Algonquin (or if it belongs to that family of languages) but we note that reference is made to the main character Mani not speaking Algonquin any more.


Bootlegger is a pertinent film about a community grappling with the effects of illegal alcohol supply and questions of autonomy. An interesting view into issues affecting First Nations communities around the world – and one that is just as relevant here – after all Australia had its own controversial “intervention” making indigenous communities in the Northern Territory dry zones.




WHAT: Bootlegger, a Canadian film


2 screenings only at SFF:

9 June 8:45 Dendy Newtown

11 June Palace Central Cinemas

HOW: Buy your tickets to this film via this link:



Sydney Film Festival 2022: French language films

SFF 2022: 12 multilingual films including French




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