FEATURE | Canada | 129 MINUTES | English
Removed from their family home and forced into Canada’s residential school system, Cree musical prodigy Aline and her siblings are plunged into a struggle for survival. Bones of Crows is Aline’s journey from child to matriarch, a moving multi-generational epic of resilience, survival and the pursuit of justice.
MARIE CLEMENTS, WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER
A renowned writer, director and producer whose decorated career has spanned film, TV, radio and live performance, Marie Clements is a Métis/Dene filmmaker and the founder of MCM, a production company specializing in the development, creation and production of innovative works of media that ignite an Indigenous and intercultural reality. Her multi-award-winning films have screened internationally at Cannes, TIFF, MOMA, VIFF, the Whistler Film Festival, the American Indian Film Festival and the imagineNATIVE Film Festival.
Marie’s current slate includes the NFB documentary feature Lay Down Your Heart and the feature film and five-part, hour-long drama Bones of Crows for CBC, Radio-Canada, and APTN. Her dramatic feature debut, Red Snow, received numerous awards, including Most Popular Canadian Feature at VIFF, Best Canadian Feature at EIFF, Best Achievement in Film at LA Skins Fest in Los Angeles, Best Director at the American Indian Film Festival and Best Production, Best Director, and Best Writer at the Women in Film & TV Festival.
Marie’s 2017 feature music documentary The Road Forward, produced by the NFB, premiered at Hot Docs, opened the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, closed the imagineNATIVE Film Festival and received multiple awards for production, directing and screenwriting. The Road Forward has screened at more than 300 venues in North America.
Aside from her many film credits, nominations and awards, Marie has personally been honoured with nominations from the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild of Canada. She is a recipient of the WFF Women on Top Award and the WIFTV Spotlight Impact Award, and is a 2019 Telefilm Canada Birks Diamond Tribute to Women in Film recipient.
Marie Clements, Trish Dolman, Christine Haebler
Grace Dove, Phillip Forest Lewitski, Rémy Girard, Karine Vanasse, Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Michelle Thrush, Gail Maurice, Carla Rae, Cara Gee, Summer Testawich, Glen Gould, Tanaya Beatty
“When my mother was passing away a Catholic priest was doing his rounds in the hospital and asked if he could come in and give her last rites. She pretended to be sleeping and gave me a nod which translated into – make him go away. I politely told him my mother was resting. He came in the next day. The same ritual. The next. She would open her eyes when he turned his back, the hospital door open – we would watch him make his way down the long hospital corridor. His black suit. His black shoes on the floor, his black overcoat catching movement. He would stop at hospital doors on his journey down, poking his head in when he could. Smiling. On her last day, we were watching him like we did. My mother looked at him making his way and then at me – and smiled. They are like crows….they always try and get you when you’re down”.
Not so long ago – a couple of years – bones of residential school children were found under a campground where I am sure Canadian families fulfilled their camping holiday dreams for decades. Roasting hot dogs, making s’mores, singing songs, parents being with their kids making family memories – all the while running and frolicking on the bones of Indigenous children who were buried there decades ago not far from a residential school – their families still waiting for them to come home. And so, Bones of Crows became the name of this feature and I think it sets a tone.
Bones of Crows is epic in scope and it is meant to be. Cinematically, Indigenous peoples are meant to feel that we were not really here, not part of a shared history, never modern in the context of time and place. We might not be present in a filmic way but we have our family albums that archive a reality that we have always been here. There are war heroes and seamed nylons, Indian cowboys, straight skirts, tattoos and horn-rimmed glasses. There are black-haired bee-hives and tailored suits, palazzo pants and mustang bikes. There are politics and wars, human rights movements and traditional realities. Bones of Crows is a generational period piece coming up through the decades, asserting that our future was always present, our past always connected to the future.
Bones of Crows is a darkly psychological drama told in parts that add up. It is inherently connected in its telling to blood memory. The idea that we are living in the present but are affected by the lives and trauma of not only our own personal battles of survival, but those of our ancestors. The residential school legacy is still playing out in the lives of survivors and their children’s children, it is still coursing through our veins. In the telling of Bones of Crows we come to understand memory not just as a flashback but as an emotional reaction triggered by a present one. Miniseries Sharp Objects, Sinners and Patrick Melrose have deftly crafted a kind of cinematic approach to this knowing. Bones of Crows comes to this with an Indigenous scope, allowing the viewer an “in” to what is commonly only understood as simply a singular tragedy. Structural rhythm in the marrow of the narratives and execution in direction will heighten the experience dramatically, and stay true to the seeing of our main characters.
There are a lot of codes for survival and a lot of secrets. There are secrets we withhold from ourselves to survive, and there are codes we deftly manifest to get ourselves out of a situation if only in our imagination for the moment – our spirit finding a place, a way to escape. Bones of Crows weaves this into the narrative, off-setting the acceleration of the dramatic action with moments that suspend and offer freedom through music, our original language, our feet in this earth, our connection to our family – codes that are inside us and have their own technicolour pictures.
Bones of Crows is mythic. It has black wings that live in the mind’s eye of Aline and her siblings because as six year-old children this is what they hear coming (black shoes against wooden floors); they see wings descending against the walls of the residential school dorm (cloaks of priests and nuns habits). Beaks and birds’ eyes that see everything…because they always try and get you when you are down.
If the Indigenous world has secrets and codes so do the other worlds in Bones of Crows. The government and church – not unlike The Handmaid’s Tale – will be designed in a kind of choreographed presence that is two sides of the same coin. Cooler surreal tones, a heightened state of existence where despite the possibility of real humanity, a manifest destiny is the engine. If The Handmaid’s Tale is the white feminist response to a deep embedded fear, Bones of Crows will be a cinematic response to our lived history in Canada where the reign of terror included starvation, disease warfare, sterilization, residential schools and pedophilia, and cemented a solid highway for the 1960s scoop, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, poverty, the incarceration of Indigenous people, environmental crisis and the foster care system. It’s scary because it was scary and because it’s still scary.
Where is the hope? Hope is in the truth. Hope is survival. Despite this history that is lodged in us I have always seen hope in the face of my mother, in the faces of my family, in the face of my son – the face of this new generation. Hope is not a separate thing. It has to exist with the truth – good or bad.
Artistically, my hope is to execute an unapologetic vision, a cinematic experience that is second to none. We are committed to bringing together the brightest minds and strongest hearts – leading Indigenous artists and actors, with leading non-Indigenous artists and actors, to tell a shared story that is uniquely Canadian, undeniably Indigenous and universally human.
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