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Holy Angels

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Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels powerfully recaptures Canada’s colonialist history through impressionistic images and the fragmented language of a child.

In 1963, Lena Wandering Spirit became one of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their families and sent to residential school. Villeneuve met Lena through his work as a videographer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Wandering Spirit spent six years at the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Against a backdrop of now-empty hallways and classrooms, fragments of memory return—the shadowy figures of nuns, bits of remembered catechism, and the nightmare sounds of the basement boiler.

“They call us by number,” she remembers. Wandering Spirit’s experience, like that of many other adult survivors, remains jagged and bright with pain and fear. But other, deeper memories also endured—of running barefoot in summer and picking berries, of stories shared, and of the warmth and love of family.

Five-year-old performer Phoenix Sawan brings Wandering Spirit’s recollections to vivid life, dancing through an abandoned building in easy defiance of the bleak history of the place. Filmed with elegance, precision, and fierce determination to not only uncover history but move past it, Holy Angels speaks of the resilience of a people who have found ways of healing—and of coming home again.

2017, 13 min 52 s

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Best Alberta Short Documentary
International Film Festival
September 27 to October 6 2018, Edmonton - Canada

Special Mention for the Best Short Film
First Peoples' Festival (Land InSights)
August 8 to 15 2018, Montréal - Canada

Indigenous Award
Yorkton Film Festival
May 24 to 27 2018, Yorkton - Canada

Founder's Award ex-aequo with "Run as One- The Journey of the Front Runners" by Erica Daniels
Yorkton Film Festival
May 24 to 27 2018, Yorkton - Canada

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