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Winds of Heaven is a ninety-minute filmic journey into the deep brooding mystery and inner beauty of Emily Carr’s paintings – a lyrical, luminescent and entertaining impression of the life of Carr and her connection to First Nations people of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia.

The film moves from the rebellious acts of a young Emily Carr against the socially stifling constraints and repressive atmosphere of her Victorian childhood, through the fifteen-year period of solitary retreat from the art world, to her re-emergence as a determined individual and modern artist.

With Winds of Heaven, Michael Ostroff proves to be one of the finest practitioners of the narrative historical documentary film. Working from first-hand accounts, letters, diaries and Emily Carr’s published writings, the film delivers evocative anecdotes and emotional narratives in a layered and fascinating scenario of the complexities and contradictions of the time and the artist.

John Walker’s fluid camera and Edmund Eagan’s intimate music brings a sense of movement, grace and energy to the paintings and archival images used throughout the film. In Diane D’Aquila’s layered and textured read of Carr’s writings, we have a portrait of a living, breathing, tough, vulnerable, smart and sympathetic Emily Carr as has never before been brought to the screen.

The film dispels a number of myths about Carr’s life and her contradictory relationship with and attitude towards the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. While she resisted the predominate white attitude of portraying natives as ‘savages’, devoid of cultural sensibilities, the film explores the critique of Carr that she did contribute to the “traffic of native images”. It also recalls the racism of the day – the Canadian government’s celebration of the ancient native arts and its determination to preserve the totem poles, while ironically advocating and implementing policies that were determined to assimilate First Nations people and eradicate their way of life and culture.

The film features commentary by authors Gerta Moray and Susan Crean, native art critic Marcia Crosby and museum curator Laurel Smith Wilson.


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