The 87-minute theatrical version of Winds of Heaven is now for sale in DVD format.

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Public Screenings – Winds of Heaven

There are no public screenings scheduled.

Since its premiere in 2010, Winds of Heaven has had public screenings in Victoria, Vancouver, Haida Gwaii, Whitehorse, Kamloops, Coqutilam, Smithers, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Sault Ste. Marie, Windsor, Sarnia, Waterloo, Toronto, Port Hope, Ottawa, Kingston, North Bay, Collingwood, Renfrew, Montreal, Wakefield, Wolfville,  Antigonish, Sackville, Fredericton, Halifax, St. John’s and Corner Brook.

It was invited to the following festivals – Vancouver International Film Festival, Festival International du Film sur L’Art, the Reel Artists Film Festival, Available Light Film Festival, Doc North Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and the Minneapolis International Film Festival.

It has been seen in the following art galleries and museums – National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery Greater Victoria, Kamloops Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Alberta, University of Alberta Museums, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Art Gallery Windsor, McMichael Canadian Art Gallery, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Glenbow Museum, Agnes Etherington Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Algoma and the Dulwich Picture Gallaery (London, UK).

It has appeared on Bravo! and TV Ontario.

John Walker was awarded the Canadian Society of Cinematographers Award: Best Documentary Photography  for his extraordinary images in Winds of Heaven. (April 2011)

Georgia Straight Janet Smith, April 20, 2011

Ambitious, impressionistic, and endowed with a stunning wealth of archival imagery, Winds of Heaven stands as the definitive, critical film portrait of Emily Carr. That is not to say it is perfect, just as it reveals its subject to be flawed and full of contradictions.

Ottawa director Michael Ostroff creates an exhaustive biography of Carr, often told through her diary’s words, and intermixes it with the history of the Northwest Coast First Nations she was so taken with.

The film begins with a picture of a young woman in Victoria, B.C., who is more comfortable in the wild terrain of Long Beach than the strict confines of corseted, turn-of-the-19th-century society. It traces her life, through her meetings with the Group of Seven to her unthinkable trips up the Skeena River and to Paris. Much later comes her 15-year retreat from painting and her first exhibition at the National Gallery, with its unintentionally ironic mix of her paintings with monuments stolen from Native lands. Through it all we see remarkable photos and footage of the slow engulfment of Native culture, from old film of gigantic cedars being felled in a pristine B.C. forest to shots of the last jutting totems standing in a Haida village.

… the insights from experts … gives a well-shaded, and unpredictable, portrait of Carr’s place in the art world and views on aboriginals. The film, for all its intricate and fascinating details of Carr’s early life, also ends abruptly, before her death. But perhaps that’s as it should be, to leave us amid those winds of heaven, the wild, swirling forests she rendered with such late-found freedom, and with Carr in the place she seems to be happiest: at her primitive caravan in the woods.

After gaining much praise on the film-festival circuit, Michael Ostroff’s doc finally arrives on TV. It is far from the standard TV bio of an important art figure, being visually sumptuous and containing much of Carr’s own words. In fact Carr’s life is mostly told through the artist’s own descriptions of travels and meetings and work, spoken by actor Diane D’Aquila. There is also an eye-popping array of archival photos and films which will help dispel the school-text picture of Carr that many people have.

Of course we learn about how Carr struggled hard to be accepted at a time when few women painted, and how she saved to travel to Paris to study. The doc also smartly tackles the many-layered issues that arise from Carr’s appreciation of native culture and her own artistic approach to it, including the issue of “appropriation” of native culture.

In the main, this is an inspiring story of an artist who struggled, who fought hard not to give in to dismay and disappointment. Given that Carr’s work has caused fierce debate, the doc is a useful and lovely reminder about the importance of stepping away from the politics of culture and just looking at the art.

John Doyle,  Globe and Mail, 29 January 2011

… This is a substantial film, and a beautiful one at times. John Walker’s cinematography flows like acrylic paint across canvas. Edmund Eagan’s score brings its own ideas to the overall narrative. At one point we hear a sweet “ting” from the soundtrack as the camera zooms in on a triangle in a child’s hands. Yet Winds of Heaven succeeds more as social history than critical biography.

In Ostroff’s directorial view, Carr’s times overwhelmed the artist. She hated Victoria’s Victorian stuffiness. London and “its perpetual undertone of humanity” made her ill. Even her relationship to the world she did care for — the lives and culture of First Nations people — was uncertain and perhaps even misguided.

“Among the Canadian elite of the time there was the need to create a country, not a real estate deal,” Ostroff explained in a recent phone conversation. The key was to assimilate the First Nations people into Eurocentric Canadian culture. “And there was Carr cheering on the need to assimilate,” says the director. “She accepted the proposition that the native people were on the edge of extinction.”

Unwittingly, Carr became part of the First Nations problem — a view still held by a few contemporary First Nations artists — not its solution. Unwittingly? Maybe not. In her own writing Carr reduced First Nations speech into some sort of pidgin Chinese with people saying “hully-up” and “toulist” for tourist.

Winds of Heaven, with Diane D’Aquila narrating excerpts from Carr’s autobiography, is as much a history of early 20th century British Columbia race relations. Successive B.C. governments wanted quaint Haida dancers out there in drum-thumping action to beguile trinket-buying tourists. Yet the same officials forbade them to attend a potlatch ceremony where leaders were chosen.

The most indelible visual moments in Winds of Heaven come with the archival footage Ostroff has deftly woven through his narrative, not the some 120 or so Carr paintings given a brief glimpse now and then.

Positive reaction to his 2004 art-based documentary, Pegi Nicol: Something Dancing About Her led Ostroff’s to consider Emily Carr. Yet his feeling that he’s not an art insider — “I don’t know what post-modernism is,” he told me — likely led him to incorporate snippets of packaged art insight from curator Laurel Smith Wilson, critic Marcia Crosby and art historians Susan Crean and Gerta Moray.

Unfortunately, their insights seem to have been clipped from another, much duller, Emily Carr biography where what ended up on canvas mattered more than how it ended up there.

Peter Goddard,  Toronto Star, 29 January 2011

“Winds of Heaven is a must-see, possibly one of the best films ever made about our province, these forests, and our history as newcomers. It’s the story of Emily Carr and what inspired her: the love of the people, the places, and the love of art. Hats off to everyone involved in this project; it is, for us, a very important story well-told, and surely for everyone, a sight to behold.” Alan Franey, Director, Vancouver International Film Festival.

Fine script does justice to Emily Carr
By Robert Amos, Special to Times Colonist October 13, 2010

It’s magic! Michael Ostroff’s new feature film Winds of Heaven weaves a living, breathing evocation of Emily Carr from a basket of disparate elements. Here is Carr for the 21st century, a woman of complexity. And you might be pleased to hear that Ostroff evokes her without using an actress to dress up like the feisty lady on the edge of nowhere.

Personally, I hate docudramas, and I bridle at any of the well-meaning women who have tried to interpret “our Emily.” Ostroff agrees, it seems, and approaches Carr by different routes. In a voice-over, the superb actress Diane D’Aquila reads the words of Carr, and she does a convincing job of delivering a carefully chosen script.

Those people who do appear briefly in the film are our contemporaries. Susan Crean is the author of The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr; Gerta Moray is the author of Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr; and Marcia Crosby is a well-published Haida/Tsimshian art historian.

In their essential books, each of these women has given us a fresh understanding of Emily Carr for the new century. Their presence here underscores Ostroff’s progressive and profound understanding of a woman I call Canada’s most important artist.

None of this overshadows the visual feast of the film. Ostroff had access to all the great national collections of Carr’s work, including those in Ottawa and Vancouver, and he presents us with new, up-close camerawork of unparalleled sensitivity. Never have I experienced the colours and the characters of Carr’s paintings so intensely. Mercifully, this film avoids the swoopy panning that lesser cinematographers usually revert to.

The paintings are beautifully complemented by superb on-location footage from the forests of Haida Gwaii and Goldstream. Ostroff also presents Victoria — under a dusting of snow, no less! He takes us to a potlatch, and to the National Gallery, but his most telling effects come from his use of meticulously constructed sets. Some are evocative — the old typewriter on Carr’s desk, clacking out her manuscripts, typographical errors and all. Others are more extensive — her chaotic and cluttered studio upstairs at the House of All Sorts.

Best of all is Ostroff’s faithful reconstruction of the Elephant, Carr’s caravan. A rickety old truck tows it down a dusty road in Goldstream. Later, it is at the centre of her campsite in the forest. The campfire is smouldering and an errant breeze flaps the canvas awning, for all the world as if Miss Carr had just stepped away.

Melding these images together, and taking us back in time, are snippets of archival footage — tree fallers, steam engines and kids at a residential school. These are intercut with photos of Carr, which have been chosen with a delicacy that reveals more depth of character behind her smile than I had noticed before.

To create a film about art, about First Nations issues, ecology and spiritualism — this was a challenge. To tell afresh the story of someone we thought we knew well is even more difficult. Winds of Heaven is a success on all these many levels.

VIFF: Iconic B.C. artist Emily Carr’s life, in her words, depicted in Winds of Heaven
By JOHN MACKIE, Vancouver Sun, October 12, 2010

VANCOUVER — Emily Carr is B.C.’s most iconic artist. But her legendary eccentricities tend to overshadow the real person, which Michael Ostroff was well aware of when he began work on a new film about Carr, Winds of Heaven.

“Most people think of her as an irascible old woman with a monkey who painted the trees, you know, and I wanted to delve much deeper into that personality,” says Ostroff, whose film made its debut at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, and will be shown today at 1 p.m….(read more)

“… I love the contrapuntal structure of your movies – and you’ve gone farther than ever with this one.  The narrative seems to be creating itself spontaneously, so the movie has a lovely “natural” flow, but at the same time there are the delights of the deep structure – the fugal counterpoint – in how your themes progress and comment on each other.  Your movies wear their structure so gracefully that one doesn’t feel ever overwhelmed or beaten about the head with a theme or an idea.  For example, your use of trees in “Winds of Heaven” – trees as raw material for commerce or art – trees as a silent commentary on the passage of time and the encroachment of immigrant Canada on the First Nations – and then to realize that the native carver we’ve seen shaping the tree is the descendent of the Russ family, and the way that realization closes a circle of time like the clasp on a bracelet, while at the same time proving that First Nations culture has defied Carr’s own assumptions and survived…..this is Joycean richness.  And it’s always going on, ultimately uniting all the themes in the movie and making us reflect on how all issues ultimately touch.”

– Stephen Hatfield, composer.

To research and write the 90-minute script required a lengthy reading list of books, articles and first hand accounts. Susan Crean’s The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr (HarperCollins, 2001) was the most valuable book to me book in terms of the intellectual and political context of the film.  Gerta Moray’s lavishly illustrated Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr (UBC Press, 2006) helped me shape the reexamination of Carr’s achievements. This is a glorious book to look through with the added incentive of Gerta’s cogent insights and fresh observations.

Native critic and cultural commentator Marcia Crosby has been critiquing Carr’s reputation for a number of years.  Her contribution to Emily Carr: New Perspectives on A Canadian Icon (D & M Publishers, 2006) titled “A Chronology of Love’s Contingencies” is a mature, complex and personal continuation of her on-going assessment of Carr’s legacy, begun in 1990 with the seminal article “Construction of the Imaginary Indian” published in Vancouver Anthology: The Institutional Politics of Art (Talon Books, 1991).

Emily Carr: New Perspectives on A Canadian Icon also includes Charlie Hill’s incisive article Backgrounds in Canadian Art: The 1927 Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art:  Native and Modern.

Of course Emily Carr’s writings form the structure of the film. The good fortune is that D & M Publishers (formerly Douglas & McIntyre) have kept them all in print in lovingly produced trade paperbacks, complete with new introductions.  The Carr books I most relied on for the script were Hundreds and Thousands:  The Journals of Emily Carr (first published more than 20 years after Carr’s death in 1966); Klee Wyck Growing Pains, The Book of Small, The Heart of the Peacock and The House of All Sorts. Important lectures delivered by Carr can be found in Fresh-Seeing: Two Addresses by Emily Carr. (Clarke, Irwin, 1972) and in Susan Crean’s Opposite Contraries The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr & Other Writing (D & M Publishers, 2003) which includes her 1913 Lecture on Totems.

There are two standard biographies that provide a basic structure to Carr’s life.  Paula Blanchard’s The Life of Emily Carr (D & M Publishers 1987) and Maria Tippett’s Emily Carr A Biography (Stoddart, 1979) cover much of the same ground, though the former is supportive and understanding of Carr’s travails, while Tippett is more aggressive in questioning elements of Carr’s life and at times, Tippett can be quite harsh in her assessment of Carr’s life.

For an insight into the Native People’s in BC, I relied on some basic histories starting with George Woodcock’s British Columbia: A History of the Province (D & M Publishers, 1990).

For details of the rights of the First Nations and their struggle for justice I turned to Terry Glavin’s most readable A Death Feast in Dimlahand (New Star Books 1998), Karen Duffek’s Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge (UBC & National Gallery, 2004), Daniel Francis’ Copying People – Photographing British Columbia’s First Nations (Fifth House, 1996), Deborah Doxator’s Fluffs and Feathers (Woodland Cultural Centre, 1992) Douglas Cole and Ira Chaikin’s An Iron Hand Upon The People (D & M Publishers, 1990), John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce (Vintage Canada, 2006), Sandra Dyck’s M.A. Thesis These Things Are Our Totems: Marius Barbeau and the Indigenization of Canadian Art and Culture in the 1920’s and her contribution in Edwin Holgate (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2005) titled A “New Country for Canadian Art”: Holgate and Barbeau in Gitxsan Territory. And Eden Robinson’s novel dark and funny Monkey Beach (Random House, 2001) offered a sense of the contemporary and community.

The classic texts that are must reading when dipping into art history of this period are Charlie Hill’s The Group of Seven, Art for a Nation (McClelland & Stewart, 1995) named as one of the 100 Most Important Canadian books and George MacDonald’s Haida Monumental Art (UBC Press, 1983). I also found The Victorian Painter’s World (Sutton Publishing, 1990) by Paula Gillett to be an extraordinary study of the obstacles facing women painters in the late 19th and early twentieth century.

Doris Shadbolt’s works Emily Carr (D & M Publishers, 1990) and The Art of Emily Carr (D & M Publishers, 1979) were among the first serious investigations of Carr’s art and although some critics have taken issue with her conclusions, they remain valuable studies. Another early work in the Carr bibliography, which I particularly found helpful (despite some obvious factual errors), is Charles Taylor’s Six Journeys: A Canadian Pattern (Anansi, 1977) which includes a thoughtful assessment of Carr as a conservative in the Canadian tradition.

A number of Carr’s friends wrote memoirs and appreciations which have encouraged the public persona and myth of Carr.  Among them are Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher’s M.E. A Portrait of Emily Carr (Toronto: Clark Irwin, 1969) and Emily Carr The Untold Story (Hancock Publishers, 1978) and Doreen Walker’s collection of Carr letters, Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms, (UBC Press, 1990).

My first encounter with Walt Whitman was, like Carr’s, in F.B. Housser’s A Canadian Art Movement:  The Story of the Group of Seven (Macmillan Company, 1926 and reprinted in 1974). One of Carr’s Leaves of Grass (she owned several) was published by the Modern Library.

I also relied on many, many newspaper accounts and reports of Carr’s activities including those by Robert Amos, Ira Dilworth, Lawren Harris, Sarah Milroy, Graham McInnes, James Nesbitt; there are too many to list here but for those interested in a very thorough bibliography, Emily Carr: New Perspectives on A Canadian Icon (D & M Publishers, 2006) is the book for you.