‘Reservation Dogs’ Director Danis Goulet On The Final Season, What’s Next, + TIFF & The Strikes
“Some kids have more baggage than others,” Teenie (Tamara Podemski) tells her niece Elora Postoak (Devery Jacobs) on the road home to Oklahoma from California in the opener of the third and final season of Reservation Dogs.
Once again tossing expectations aside and centering in on the personal to find the political, the “BUSSIN’ “episode of the acclaimed Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi created FX series literally and figuratively puts out the road map to its conclusion.
“We are going to see the show take some really big risks to go into places that we may not have gone before, and especially there’s an episode that I was a part of that deals with collective historical trauma,” says returning director Danis Goulet who helmed the season premiere and the haunting Deer Lady episode that debuts on August 9.
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Coming off the end of Season 2 last year that saw Elora, and pals Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) finally make it out to the Golden State together to give their departed friend Daniel a fitting send-off, Rez Dogs’ latest 10-episode season kicked off today on Hulu with a two-episode premiere.
Speaking from northern Saskatchewan, Goulet reflected on the turns the final season takes, where it could all end up and the horrors the show delves in to. The Toronto International Film Festival board member also offered a glimpse on how the Cameron Bailey-led fest hopes to thrive in this summer of Hollywood strikes.
DEADLINE: There is a very specific tone to the season opener, a gentle reset of sorts, especially when it comes to fathers, Bear, who realizes again how absent his father is, and Elora, who discovers her father in white. What were the challenges in setting the stage for the final season?
GOULET: Well, I think what’s so great about this show is the way that it takes risks to venture off what its established. The end of Season 2 really left us at a place that felt like something big had happened, they had made it to California. The goal had been met, and there was this sense of catharsis. So naturally, the question would be, what comes next? But I also felt like this was an opportunity.
DEADLINE: How so?
GOULET: All the kids have been out loose on the streets of LA, and to bring them into sort of this safe environment of going back home.
When I first read it, it struck me as just a road movie, and so, you know, in road movies, you kind of get a little bit more intimacy, get a little bit more space to kind of just wonder aloud about certain things, and I think all of the characters are now sort of asking the question of what’s next? So, it was just sort of like this really beautiful way to come back to all of the characters and pick them up to ask the question.
DEADLINE: In that, how does that question get answered, or does it?
GOULET: It’s so brilliant, what the writers have done, because I think you could go anywhere with the third season. We are going to see the show take some really big risks to go into places that we may not have gone before, and especially there’s an episode that I was a part of that deals with collective historical trauma.
DEADLINE: Isn’t that venturing off from its own established guidelines sort of a secret weapon of Reservation Dogs?
GOULET: Oh yes! The show talks about such difficult things in this really beautiful way, in this way that remains always embraced by community.
So, for Season 3, I think people can really expect to sort of go on some big adventures, you know? Some characters go off to different places, but always coming back to this question of, you know, who I am and what community do I belong to, and I think the specificity of the show being situated in an indigenous community informs both the question and the answers.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
GOULET: You know, I think when Teenie says that line, some people have more baggage than others, it really is speaking about some of the difficulties, some of the collective trauma within indigenous communities. The show touches upon that, but never makes it about indigenous victimhood, and that’s what I think the show balances so beautifully.
DEADLINE: OK, so how does it all end?
GOULET: (LAUGHS) I don’t know if I should say much about that. Can I pass on that question?
DEADLINE: Indeed you can.
You are a Rez Dogs vet, but as a Canadian of Cree-Metis heritage was there a cultural contrast coming into the Muscogee nation in Oklahoma?
GOULET: It’s so interesting, because all of the nations have their specificity, and there’s hundreds of them all across North America. So, every time you come into a new situation, you go in asking, what are the protocols of this place, of this community? What are their practices, you know? And a lot of the specificity actually comes from the landscape.
It really comes out of the place, and I think what’s so incredible about Reservation Dogs is it is set specifically in Oklahoma, which we know, politically, you know, just has this huge Supreme Court decision that talked about Oklahoma as all indigenous land. This is a very incredible place to go as an indigenous person, because the experience of colonization, whether you’re an indigenous person in New Zealand or a Sámi person in Northern Europe, we feel very connected by a collective experience. I think it’s also why you can’t categorize in the way that we often look at national cinemas or like, national kind of media of different countries. What’s unique about indigenous people is that there’s this global connected voice that tends to revisit quite a lot of the things seen. So, to answer your question – not really and part of the strength of the show is actually the specificity of where it comes from.
DEADLINE: Your feature debut Night Raiders saw Taika as a producer, and you helmed the poignant Mabel episode in Season 2, and of course directed two episodes this year – now that the show is coming to an end, what has that experience been like for you?
GOULET: It was incredible.
This show has been one of the best things I’ve had the honor of being a part of, and I think it transcends just the fact that I have a friendship with Sterlin. He leads in a really different way, and he thought very carefully about everyone that he’s gathered together,
You know, when it comes to TV, you hear all these horror stories that, like, oh, you’re just the director of the week, and you know, you’re going to have all of these issues. But the experience of coming into Rez Dogs was anything but that. It was, in fact, the opposite of that. It’s like you come into this space. Your vision is completely honored and respected. You’re totally trusted with the material, and then the crew and the whole team just brings you into the fold, and they’re like cheerleaders at the monitor, which is amazing.
DEADLINE: Shifting gears for a sec, as the strikes bring limitations to promotion and more, from your perspective, as a TIFF board member, will this be a very different festival season going forward, or do you think it’s going to be almost a return to its roots?
GOULET: Obviously, this is a time where everything’s up in the air, but TIFF is going forward full speed ahead. I think there’s a real opportunity for it to feel like a global festival. I think it’s going to be a strong year, in spite of, the challenges obviously happening right now. Yeah, the things I’m hearing from the planning as we get closer to the festival is really exciting.
DEADLINE: In that global vein, do you think you bring a different perspective to Reservation Dogs as a Canadian director?
GOULET: It’s a bit of a different context because indigenous communities don’t see the border in the same way. But I would definitely say if I’m just putting on my Canadian hat and sitting next to the giant that is America, we definitely have a line of sight to it that is different than, certainly, what an American would. I think especially when it comes to, some of the things that the show’s tackled when we’re talking about indigenous experience…and I’ll just touch upon one thing in particular.
The residential school experience, we’ve had a process up in Canada called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that released findings about what residential schools did as a system to indigenous children. It found that indigenous children had a greater chance of dying going into a residential school than a Canadian soldier did going into World War II. Now, with the uncovering two years ago of the mass graves, there’s a public consciousness around the fact that Canada waged war on indigenous people through its children. Having said that, the thing is, that this happens in the US, as well.
DEADLINE: Something you and Sterlin center on in the Deer Lady episode you directed this season, the third episode of the season and written by Sterlin. No spoilers, but that episode not proves an origin story for Kathiehtiio Horn’s character, but a glaring indictment of the terror and horrible abuse the government and the church rained down on indigenous youth, often to a fatal result.
GOULET: Yes, the boarding school system was also a structural system put in place in the US. I think a lot of people know about the Indian wars, and they think about warriors and soldiers fighting each other, but when you think about how insidious it is to actually go after children to take them away from their parents and then put them into circumstances where they’re abused, where they’re subject to, you know, experiments, you know, where there’s graves on-site at a school – that’s horrific, and it happened up until quite recently
The horror of that really goes to the heart of what both America and Canada were founded upon. It’s a violent history, and it’s a hard history to contend with.
But I think, at least in Canada, it’s like, we had been through some kind of process. In the US, what the show is doing in a Trojan horse way, because there’s so much love and humor in the show and so many characters that anyone could get on board with. That it touches upon these difficult things, like the high rates of suicide in our communities, and it talks about, you know, what we’re going to see in Season 3 is that it delves a little deeper into certain historical things, realities.
Hopefully, that is something where the public consciousness in the US starts to change, as well, because these horrors happened in both countries, and it’s a history that’s very important to contend with.
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