Once Upon a River Image

Once Upon a River

By Alan Ng | August 28, 2020

With a boat, gun, and a lifetime of outdoor survival skills in hand, Margo begins an Odyssey down the waterway to find her mother. Her first stop is a friend’s home who agrees to help, but the arrival of the sheriff (possibly investigating the shooting) sends Margo on the run. As she heads down the river, she runs into fellow Native American Will (Ajuawak Kapashesit), who offers support and companionship. Then an older gentleman Smoke (John Ashton), who lets her stay with him if she promises to fulfill an unusual request. She even runs into Billy to confront her about his father.

There’s a lot to love about Once Upon a River. Let’s start with Charlotte Hornsby’s beautiful cinematography. Sure, shooting outdoors and along a river is an affordable way to make a movie without building sets, but then again filming in a forest and on a river is no easy feat either. The most pivotal moments of the film are in or on the river, and Hornsby visually tells this story without being bogged down by dialogue.

“…DelaCerna absolutely shines in not only her first feature film but her first leading role…”

As Margo, Kenadi DelaCerna absolutely shines in not only her first feature film but her first leading role as well. She more than carries the entire film, considering she’s in every scene of the film. Sure, there’s a little bit of the rookie nerves, but her performance keeps you engaged with her story and character.

But DelaCerna’s performance means nothing without Rose’s direction and screenplay. I love two aspects of Once Upon a River. First, the story feels like the odysseys of old as Margo’s travels down the river and meets characters along the way, which shapes the woman Margo becomes at the end. Each encounter (particularly with Will) becomes a chapter in her life that affects both her narrative and character development.

The second is Margo’s character arc. The film starts with her losing everything, and in her case, “everything” was her father. It would be easy for Margo to become a victim of her misfortune, drifting down the river of life allowing her circumstances to dictate her path. By the end, Margo must grab the reins of her life and become the master of her destiny.

A far as coming-of-age stories go, Once Upon a River is a very sweet story. There’s not a lot of fluff, but there is a lot of heart in a story based on a novel and feels in a way like a novel.

Once Upon a River screened at the 2020 Method Fest.

Once Upon a River (2019)

Directed and Written: Haroula Rose

Starring: Kenadi DelaCerna, John Ashton, Tatanka Means, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Lindsay Pulsipher, Sam Straley, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Once Upon a River Image

"…it would be easy for Margo to become a victim of her misfortune..."

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  1. ONCE UPON A RIVER - The David Lean Cinema says:

    […] “Kenadi Delkacerna absolutely shines in not only her first feature film but her first leading role as well” – Alan Ng, Film Threat […]

  2. Wivine Mathys says:

    Je dévore ce livre pour la seconde fois! J’aimerais beaucoup voir l’interprétation cinématographique de Halou Rose, avec cette jeune actrice qui a l’air de bien interpréter Margo Crane! Mais je ne le trouve malheureusement pas! Quelqu’un pourrait m’aider et me dire où je pourrais le regarder en streaming sur un site internet?

    Merci d’avance!


  3. Sherry Kent says:

    Showing at College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL on Friday 2/21/20 7:00 pm.

  4. Lauralee says:

    Based on the novel written by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

    • Timothy J Gallagher says:

      Sayin’! It sounds as though Haroula Rose craves the entire treasure chest, but I have faith the advertising agency did did not consider mentioning the novelist a key element. Yet, each element of the movie is used to unlock the vision which was created in the mind of Haroula Rose when she read Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novel. BJC charged fearlessly into the world when she was around the same age as Margo, the book’s protagonist, hitch-hiking across the continent, travelling with the B&B circus, and leading bicycle tours in Transylvania. She excelled in academia, first as a mathematician before settling on Creative Writing. With real world experience, excellence in academics, earlier book success and a willingness to spend as much time as it takes to perfect a story, Bonnie Jo Campbell is the essential reason why Rose got to write her screenplay and do the movie and the ad agency was awarded a contract to do the artwork. Seems like she is worth mentioning.

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