Between 1831 and 1996, some 150,000 Aboriginal children were torn from their families and sent to residential schools run by religious communities across Canada. main character of The shadow of crowsAline Spears (Grace Dove), Cree who we follow from the age of 9 (Summer Testawich) to 86 (Carla Rae), never existed. However, the humiliations, ill-treatment and sexual assaults she suffered in one of these establishments, which aimed to “kill the Indian in the heart of the child”, are inspired by very real facts.
“I was inspired by stories from my family to create Aline,” says Métis screenwriter and director Marie Clements (Red Snow, The Road Forward) in a virtual interview. I have an amazing mother and aunts who went to Indian residential schools; their experiences have been the touchstone of The shadow of crows. In every family, these stories come to the surface, and that’s how we came to understand better what the Aboriginal people had to endure and how long they kept it to themselves. »
Even the title was, so to speak, whispered to him by his mother when the latter was living her last days: “At the hospital, there was a priest who went from room to room to ask the patients if they wanted to receive the unction. Every day we heard his black shoes pounding the ground; when he entered the room, my mother pretended to be asleep. The ride lasted a few days. The last time he came she said, “They’re just like crows, they always come to you when you’re down.” I then made the connection with the cassocks of the priests and the veils of the nuns, which must have been impressive in the eyes of the young boarders. »
To tell the story of Aline, who will enlist in the Canadian army, where she will meet her future husband, Adam Wallach (Phillip Lewitski), with whom she will have two children who will help her get to the Vatican. hoping to get an apology from the Catholic Church, Marie Clements opted for a non-linear narrative.
“This structure was inherent in my way of seeing the story and therefore imposed itself naturally from the writing of the screenplay. It was my way of showing how trauma acts on us and how it resurfaces without warning during our existence. It was very important for me to approach trauma in this way, because it is wrong to think that what happened a very long time ago has no impact on our present. Trauma is part of us. »
At the beginning, The shadow of crows was to be a four-episode miniseries that Marie Clements pitched to CBC. Along the way, it was expanded with a fifth episode. Then, in order to secure funding, the director had the idea of making a version for the cinema. Like the splash (1981), by Gilles Carle, Second-hand happiness (1983), by Claude Fournier, Weavers of Power (1988), by the same filmmaker, The shadow of crows is therefore available in feature films, in theaters since Friday, and in miniseries, which will be broadcast in September on CBC and then on ICI Télé before being available on the ICI Télé and Présences autochtones platforms.
“I wanted us to have two stories that echo each other. I didn’t know that was done on the francophone side in the 1980s and I had never seen that on the anglophone side. The only example I knew of at the time was carlos, by Olivier Assayas. Let’s say the experience was athletic. It was great to be able to tell this whole story in five episodes for TV, but then you had to rethink it and cut it to fit in two hours for the cinema. As a designer, it was a big challenge and I feel privileged to have been allowed to do it. »
To create Aline, I was inspired by stories from my family. I have an amazing mother and aunts who went to Indian residential schools; their experiences have been the touchstone of The shadow of crows. In every family, these stories come to the surface […].
Protected by younger brother Thomas (Jonathan Whitesell), who teaches her music, Grace is promised a career as a concert pianist. To the good pleasure of Father Jacobs (Rémy Girard), who likes to show off the little girl’s talents to dignitaries during hearty dinners, Grace is exempt from certain activities. To the great displeasure of Sister Ruth (Karine Vanasse), who cruelly puts an end to the dreams of the child prodigy, who will still live many nightmares, including the loss of a little brother, who died prematurely, like 6,000 Aboriginal children.
In fact, in May 2021, 215 unmarked graves were discovered at the Kamloops boarding school in British Columbia, where filming was The shadow of crows. “Discoveries near the residential schools have proven that all these stories of children missing without a trace were indeed true. Whether we are indigenous or non-indigenous, we share these stories that we did not learn in school. There were no lecturers to talk about it, nor books about it; until university, no one knew about Aboriginal history. It is a real loss, and not only for the Aboriginal people, not to know the truth. We, Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, have been lied to about our history. »
Along with cinematographer Vince Arvidson as well as composers Wayne Lavallee and Jesse Zubot, Marie Clements made sure she was able to capture the Indigenous spirit. “In the image, we wanted viewers to feel the characters’ sense of belonging to their land, the sense of freedom they felt before being abducted and taken prisoner. With the music, which merges the sense of indigenous rhythm with that of European classical music, we wanted to create a code that translates this power to transport oneself from one place to another and to escape thanks to the imagination, which allowed our families, our ancestors, to survive. »
Proud to have surrounded herself with Aboriginal artisans and to have brought together Aboriginal actors from five generations, Marie Clements reveals that this story that she has carried within her for ten years has become a duty of memory for all those who have contributed to it. Even for those who have taken on thankless roles there.
“I had the chance to work with great foreign actors; I feel that they have graciously agreed to play characters that have nothing to do with them and have understood a part of humanity that they had never felt. I recognize that they had the heavy responsibility of representing these characters, and they put all their talent and art into it in order to tell this Canadian story with us,” concludes Marie Clements.
The film The shadow of crows has been in theaters since June 2.