The premise of Wayne Wapeemukwa’s faux-documentary is promising. Set during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the film tells the story of five individuals — Angel, Mark, Ken, Eric and Rollergirl — living in Downtown Eastside, one of the most deprived areas of the city. The director saw the Games as a “fantasy that deliberately obfuscated fundamental contradictions about Vancouver. It’s a place where the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ can be situated around ‘Canada’s Poorest Postal Code.’” Luk’Luk’l’s opening moments immediately outlines these contradictions; the faded image of an ice hockey rink accompanied by the growing roar of a fevered crowd is abruptly interrupted by the image of a young woman sitting alone in a small, messy bedroom with blinds that cast prison-bar-like shadows on the wall.
Sadly, the rest of the film does not live up to early expectations. Wapeemukwa’s intentions are clear and his exploration of loneliness and the feeling of being unnoticed is at times engaging and moving. His characters, whether that be skater Rollergirl (Angela Dawson) who wants to be recognised for her talent, wheelchair-bound Ken (Ken Harrower) who wants someone to stick around long enough to become friends or Mark (Joe Buffalo), a tortured young man who dreams of a reprieve from a life that has been so full of suffering, all share a sense of isolation.
The trouble is that Wapeemukwa is so concerned with giving all five of his central characters their dues that we never really get to know any one of them. They become defined by their most singular characteristics, and we never learn enough about them to be emotionally connected to their plight. The dichotomy between the Winter Olympic Games and the stories that make up the film is also notably unexplored. There is little interaction between these two worlds, other than a scene in which Ken attempts to buy two tickets for the gold medal hockey match between Canada and the U.S.A.
Luk’Luk’l feels confused, bogged down by too many characters with no strong underlying message to tie them together. As a result it’s an ultimately frustrating watch and when the credits roll there is a sense that, with some focus, there is a fascinating story of a forgotten people waiting to be told.