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Cree Actor and Director Cody Lightning Talks New Film Hey, Viktor!

The raunchy mockumentary gives Smoke Signals the sequel it didn’t know it needed.

by Maggie McPhee

Since starring as Little Viktor in the 1988 cult classic Smoke Signals, child actor Cody Lightning grew up in a complicated limelight. The nickname Viktor stuck with him like a backwards compliment, a relentless reminder that his career peaked at 12 years old. Smoke Signals, a watershed film for Indigenous representation and self-determination, painted a portrait of reservation life with sensitive strokes. Lightning, now 37, has taken the film’s legacy and dropped it into a woodchipper. His directorial debut Hey, Viktor! launches the self-referential, raunchy mockumentary to ecstatic highs, proving Indigenous cinema holds space for both nuanced interrogations of family ties and grown men shitting their pants. 

“Smoke Signals was the first movie where I saw myself on the screen. I want to bring that joy to a new generation,” says Lightning. “I want to show off the Rez that I know—the raunchy humour, the goofy characters, the love and redemption.” 

Hey, Viktor! sees Cody play himself as an anti-hero, a delusional filmmaker with a drinking problem desperate to live up to his childhood fame. After accepting strings-attached funding to make his new movie SMOKE SIGNALS 2: STILL SMOKING from a psychotic arms dealer, Cody must get the original cast back together or… die. But out of the star-studded cast, including Adam Beach, Gary Farmer, and Irene Bedard, only Simon Baker, A.K.A. Little Thomas, his childhood co-star, agrees to participate. What begins as a ridiculous premise unravels into side-splitting chaos, peppered with a tasteless abundance of male nudity. 

The zeal on screen originated on set. “The filming experience was so much fun,” Lightning tells RANGE from his home in Edmonton. “We improvised a lot… if there’s something that works, let’s use it, if it doesn’t work, let’s get it out of here, and let’s just keep the momentum going.” That momentum pressed the gas pedal to the floor, filming in a tight 21 days and under brand new covid protocols. With a script as a guideline, his cast, which in actuality included Adam Beach, Gary Farmer, and Irene Bedard, infused an already ambitious story with one-of-a-kind comedic flourishes.

In a roundabout way, Hey, Viktor! actually works as the sequel to Smoke Signals fictional Cody aspires to make. It’s as innovative, inspirational, and iconic as its predecessor, updated for the current moment and distorted through a Trailer-Park-Boys-meets-The-Office-meets-A-Sad-Man’s-Youtube-Channel lens. Lightning marvels that like Smoke Signals, Hey, Viktor! is an independent, Indigenous-made film that toured festivals around the world and has received theatrical distribution. “It’s like history repeating itself in a really amazing and beautiful way,” he says.  

Growing up as a child actor, working in the film industry never felt like a choice Lightning made for himself. After a brief rebellious teenage phase during which he just wanted to be a “normal kid”, he realised filmmaking was his passion. As an adult, he recommitted to the craft—but on his own terms. “Instead of just doing projects for others, I want to do it for myself and bring others on board my ship, to show a different creation process in the industry, to work with your friends and help your friends and family members to work and create something awesome.”

Like many artists, Lightning experienced rejection. He was never cast for comedic roles, so he had to make his own. He refused to take no for an answer or compromise on his crass sensibilities. Lightning hopes he can model a new approach for up-and-coming filmmakers, whether Indigenous or not. “You can get together with your friends, you can make something beautiful and amazing and if you have like-minded people and like-minded crew and everyone on board, you will make something fantastic and there’s no way that that light won’t be able to shine.” 

Hey Viktor opens in select theatres across Canada March 15