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.

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