TIFF 2023 | Hey, Viktor! (Cody Lightning, Canada) — Centrepiece

By Michael Sicinski.

Cody Lightning’s mockumentary, a pseudo-sequel to Smoke Signals (1998), received some vicious reviews following its world premiere at Tribeca. But to call the film aimless or declare it an outright shambles is to profoundly miss the point. In an industry that still demands positive images and model minorities, Hey, Viktor! is a self-portrait of the artist as a complete asshole. Lightning’s intra-film alter ego is delusional and self-destructive, convinced that his small role in Chris Eyre’s film, a landmark in First Nations representation, has made him a brilliant actor and a household name. The fact that he can’t get work, other than a gay-for-pay porn shoot and a pro-fracking ad for some horrible Alberta energy company, hasn’t made a dent in his unearned arrogance.

Pitched somewhere between American Movie (1999) and Pauly Shore Is Dead (2003), Hey, Viktor! has a fairly predictable narrative arc. Cody promises a violent German “producer” named Chomsky (Phil Burke) that he will get the old band back together for a genuine sequel. We get cameos from Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard, and—I think the secret is out—Adam Beach, all gamely pretending that they want nothing to do with Cody. With few options left, he hijacks a reality TV crew and turns his “documentary” into the film itself, with the reluctant help of Smoke Signals costar Simon Baker and producer Cate (Hannah Cheesman), a “half-Cherokee” pretendian and Cody’s best friend.

Even though the meta-shtick of Hey, Viktor! is often tedious, it’s never less than fascinating as a meta-meta-commentary on fetishism and failure. Lightning’s performance is shameless. Hobbling around with a sore rectum or covered in human shit, he is as insufferable as Larry David, as abject as Borat. And yet, in the midst of all this expects to win the admiration of Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo, and pontificates about wanting to be an exemplary Native, someone who’ll make the community proud. In a watershed moment for First Peoples in popular culture, Lightning used his fading clout to make his very own Freddy Got Fingered (2001), with support from Telefilm Canada. Respect.