“If the work of an isolated little old woman on the edge of nowhere is too modern for the Canadian National Gallery, it seems it cannot be a very progressive institution”. Emily Carr

Emily Carr is iconic, an art star. It was not always so. A rebel even as a child, she grew up in a strict Victorian household in her very  proper hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. She studied at art schools in San Francisco, London and Paris, fell in love, was rejected, never really got over it. Intrigued by native culture, she travelled to remote indigenous villages in British Columbia, sketching and painting totem poles, people, landscapes. Her art was her life.

But by middle age she had become an object of ridicule in Victoria—a dowdy, iconoclastic over-the-top eccentric who couldn’t sell a painting, liked pushing her pet monkey Woo around town in a baby carriage, connected the chairs in her studio to a pulley that lifted them to the ceiling when visitors arrived so that there was nothing for them to sit on.

Winds of Heaven director Michael Ostroff skips past the “eccentric” version of Emily Carr. In a newspaper interview he apparently called a local group who planned to unveil a statue of Carr and Woo in front of Victoria’s Empress Hotel “the blue rinse set.”  A patronizing anachronism unworthy of him but semi-forgivable since his film centres on Carr as a visionary, not a zoo-keeper.

It is a terrific film—Carr’s mysterious and evocative paintings, her journals, archival photos and footage of the  villages, totem poles intact. And the spiritual essence of the trees that blends with the thoughts and emotions of villagers past and present—”we have always been here, since  the beginning of time”—and elicits a responsive chord in the soul. See it.

Highly recommended

Sandra Peredo, Intermedias reviewer
VIFF 2010

Winds of Heaven/Emily Carr, Carvers, and the Spirits of the Forest
Director Michael Ostroff