Vancouver Island communities will be among the first in Canada to see Bones of Crows, an award-winning feature film about inter-generational trauma caused by Canada’s residential school system, which kicked off its national community screening tour this week.
Written and directed by award-winning Métis/Dene filmmaker Marie Clements, Bones of Crows is a multi-generational story of resilience told through the eyes of Cree matriarch Aline Spears (played throughout her life by Summer Testawich, Secwépemc actor Grace Dove and Carla Rae. They are supported by a cast of Indigenous talent from across the country.
“It has been a real honour to play Spears,” said Testawich, 11, who played Spears aged between eight and 12 years old. “After watching the movie it made my great-grandmother have a greater understanding of why my great-grandfather can be sometimes grumpy.”
Child actors like Testawich were fully supported culturally during filming some of the tough scenes she had to play, said Cricket Testawich, her mother.
“I am proud that my daughter’s generation can tell this story — to speak the truth — when others couldn’t,” said the elder Testawich. “The film can be a hard show to watch on screen, but on set the children, surrounded by an almost all-Indigenous cast, were wrapped in love.”
There was always an elder on set during filming and the actors were smudged off after nearly every shot.
The film centres around Spears, who was removed from her family home and forced into Canada’s residential school system. Told over a time span of more than 100 years, the film portrays a struggle for survival by the young musical prodigy and her siblings, with Spears and her descendants laying bare a fight against systemic starvation, racism and sexual abuse.
The film was shot in Kamloops, as well as the traditional territories of the Esquimalt Nation, Kwikwetlem First Nation, Lekwungen Songhees Nation, Musqueam Nation, Okanagan Nation, Scia’new First Nation (Beecher Bay), Squamish Nation, Tk’emlúpste Secwépemc, Tla’amin Nation, Tsartlip Nation (North Saanich), Tseycum First Nation (Saanich), and Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
Bones of Crows was produced by Ayasew Ooskana Pictures, with Marie Clements Media, Screen Siren Pictures and Grana Productions in association with CBC/Radio-Canada.
The feature film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and has been received with acclaim from audiences around the world at film festivals, including the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The show’s cast includes Kindall Charters, a Nlaka’pamux First Nation from Merritt, who plays alongside Grace Dove (Alaska Daily).
“I don’t usually cry, but I cried when I watched it, it was so spiritual,” said Charters, 35. “Seeing the movie helped my grandmother open up about history that I never knew of and had my aunties and cousins talking about their experiences. It is a story that all people need to learn — a story that until now, I only knew a small part of.”
To get the story out, the public is invited to attend free community screenings ahead of its theatrical release later this year. The screening tour began in Port Hardy Jan. 31, with upcoming screenings on Vancouver Island taking place in Campbell River, Sidney, Victoria, Port Alberni, Ucluelet, Courtenay and Nanaimo.
Bones of Crows will be accompanied by a five part mini-series, commissioned by CBC/Radio-Canada in association with APTN, to be aired this fall.
Some of the cast, including Testawich and Charters, will be at some of the community screenings of the movie.
The movie was produced with the financial participation of Telefilm Canada, Canada Media Fund, Indigenous Screen Office, APTN, Société Radio-Canada, Rogers Telefund, Independent Production Fund, Shaw Rocket Fund, Bell Fund, Creative B.C. First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Cultural Council and Indigenous Arts Program, the B.C. Arts Council, The Province of British Columbia Film Incentive B.C., Quebec Production Services Tax Credit, and The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit.
The Bones of Crows community tour was made possible through the support of Rogers, I Love First Peoples, Central Mountain Air and Pacific Coastal Airlines.
The Bones of Crows free screening schedule on Vancouver Island includes:
Feb. 1 - Port Hardy - Port Hardy Secondary School - 9 a.m. - a student screening
Feb. 2 - Campbell River - Tidemark Theatre - 7 p.m.
Feb. 3 - Tseycum First Nation (Sidney) - Star Cinema - 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 - Victoria-Colwood - Royal Bay Secondary School Theatre -7 p.m.
Feb. 4 - Victoria Film Festival - The Vic Theatre - 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 8 - Port Alberni - Alberni District High School - 12:30 p.m. - a student screening
Feb. 10 - Ucluelet - Ucluelet Community Centre - 7 p.m.
Feb. 11 - Port Alberni - Alberni District High School - 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 - Courtenay - Sid Williams Theatre - 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 - Victoria-Colwood - Royal Bay Secondary School Theatre - 12:30 p.m. - a student screening
Feb. 16 - Nanaimo - John Barsby Secondary School - Chandler Hall - noon - a student screening