'Hey, Viktor!' Is a Satire with Heart

Directed by Cody Lightning

Starring Cody Lightning, Hannah Cheesman, Simon Baker, Phil Burke, Conway Kootenay, Adam Beach, Colin Mochrie

Photo courtesy of levelFILM

BY Vanessa SanginitiPublished Mar 12, 2024


More than 20 years after the release of Smoke Signals, Chris Eyre’s 1998 film that changed cinema and its representation of Indigeneity, actor Cody Lightning moves back to his reservation in Northern Alberta.

Despite his dwindling celebrity, Cody (starring as a fictionalized version of himself) believes himself to be a star who everyone remembers from his role as little Victor Joseph in Smoke Signals. Yet, the only roles his manager and best friend Kate (Hannah Cheesman) can find for him are fracking commercials that caricaturize his Indigenous identity or porn.

After his wife and children leave him for a younger, more successful actor, Cody realizes that he needs to get serious about making the film he has always wanted to make: Smoke Signals 2: Still Smoking. Hence, a documentary crew lets audiences in on the making of the film and the hijinks Cody and his crew get up to. 

Despite having ties to Smoke Signals, Hey, Viktor! is not intertextual in a way that will confuse audiences unfamiliar with the earlier film. The raunchy humour is exactly what you would expect in a mockumentary that is directly tied to Lightning’s personal life. From stealing lawnmowers with Uncle Reggie (Conway Kootenay) to breaking into Adam Beach’s house for his Smoke Signals wig, outlandish behaviour feels right at home here. Rez humour is on full display, with a makeshift hockey stick boom mic and attached feather being just one of the clever details.

It's at about the 25-minute mark where Cody decides to get serious about making his movie. It's even later in the film, nearing the hour-mark, that the filming of the spiritual sequel begins. Of course, Cody needs to get the other Smoke Signals actors on board with the project to keep their financier, German arms dealer and Indigenous enthusiast Chomsky (Phil Burke), happy. Appearances from Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard and Adam Beach are welcome; however, it’s only when Simon Baker agrees to star that filming begins. As a result, Hey, Viktor! takes a little while to get things moving and spends a lot of time dealing with the looming presence of nostalgia.

Lightning and co-writer Samuel Miller use the mockumentary format incredibly carefully. Parody is innate to Hey, Viktor!, as the German obsession with Indigenous culture, child actors and "pretendians" are all satirized here. Of course, satire is almost always key in mockumentaries, but there needs to be care taken with characters in a film that focuses on sobriety, making amends, navigating acting as an Indigenous person, and letting go of the past. Lightning’s presence as actor, co-writer and director allow him to apply this care to the mockumentary format without making everything one big joke.

Cody struggles with appreciating the people around him throughout Hey, Viktor!; in particular, his drinking issues, self-centred behaviour and jealousy cause constant rifts in his closest relationships, especially with Simon. The wonderful writing of Cody’s progression allows him to realize how much those in his life love him for being himself and not for being a character he played in a movie 20 years ago. As Cody learns to stop holding himself and others back due to his attachment to the past, the film solidifies its place beside iconic mockumentaries.

Hey, Viktor! begins with Cody saying, "You know, when I was a little boy, I always wanted to do something for my people." There’s not much better than giving someone your love and appreciation, and Hey, Viktor! is an extension of this gift to his community and beyond.


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