Ninety-three years ago Balsam Lake, a long and narrow body of water located in in the City of Kawartha Lakes in Central Ontario, made worldwide headlines when a freak summer storm brought tragedy to a group of men canoeing on its waters. The story, largely forgotten today, is brought back to vivid life in “Brotherhood,” a new film from director Richard Bell.
It’s the year 1926. A group of young men, many teens among them, are spending the hot and steamy July at Long Point Camp on what now might be called an eco-adventure but was then thought of as two weeks of male bonding, canoeing, sing-alongs and character building. Led by Great War veterans Arthur (Brendan Fletcher) and Robert (Brendan Fehr) they head out on a routine expedition in a thirty-foot canoe to gather supplies but capsized off Grand Island. For hours the group, the team leaders and thirteen boys, fought against the cold, unforgiving waters for survival.
“Brotherhood” begins with a buoyant boyhood feel of anticipation. The campers are excited, friendships are building, the tone is very Heritage Minute. From there Bell flashes back and forth from the good times on dry land to the struggle on the open water. It’s an effective treatment that ups the stakes. It allows the viewer get a clear and concise before-and-after look at the boys as they change from young men into adults over the course of one very difficult night. Heroes are formed in adversity and the survivors, just four, become a band of brothers, thrown together by fate.
Along the way the script provides plenty of foreshadowing. People say things like, “a hero is just a man too afraid to run away,” and one even quotes Shakespeare’s famous “Henry V” “For he today that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother,” speech. It feels heavy handed and melodramatic by times but there is no denying the power of the film’s message of strength by community.