Trouble in the Garden: Indigenous Indie film brings attention to Sixties Scoop

By Bree Duwyn

A dancing scene from Trouble in the Garden (Courtesy of @troubleinthegardenthefilm on Instagram).

Award winning writer and director Roz Owen tackles important Indigenous issues in her latest film, Trouble in the Garden.

The film opened theatrically in Toronto at Imagine Cinemas Carlton Cinema and in Calgary at the Plaza Theatre throughout the week of Feb. 15 to 21. The film is also set to screen in Regina at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile from March 1 to 7. As well as at the Magic Lantern Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon from March 8 to 14.

Bailed out of jail and taken in by a brother she has not seen in years, Trouble in the Garden tells a story of an Indigenous protester, Raven, and her adoptive family who battle with betrayal and heartbreak.

The film is a fascinating journey that depicts a storyline that many Indigenous people faced as victims of The Sixties Scoop, a practice that took place from the late 1950s through the 1980s in which Indigenous children were taken away from their homes and placed into foster homes or put up for adoption. However, to this day there are still children being removed from their homes and put into foster care using the legal system.

Trouble in the Garden also tackles Indigenous treaty and land issues, as Raven fights for the rights of Indigenous people and their rights to land.

Owen’s inspiration in creating Trouble in the Garden comes from her sister-in-law, a Sixties Scoop survivor. She wanted to bring awareness to a topic not so often discussed.

Owen hopes to “flip people's thinking” and finds it important to use her film to bring awareness to the history of Canada’s dark past when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, she said. She also hopes that Scoop survivors who watch Trouble in the Garden will feel authenticity in the story.

To ensure she would tell the story with the most accuracy, Owen called Raven Sinclair who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Treaty 4 located in southern Saskatchewan, a professor of social work — as well a Sixties Scoop survivor and activist.

Sinclair, who is also a filmmaker, values her work on issues of Indigenous child welfare, adoption and historical trauma and recovery.

Owen and Sinclair collaborated extensively to tell a genuine story that is raw, crucial and something that people need to talk about.

“I want people to see it and understand that everybody has a story and this story isn’t just the story of a survivor. There are themes that we need to understand to know a bit more about what our population has gone through,” said Sinclair in an interview with What She Said.

In order to nail down the dialogue in Trouble in the Garden, Owen also consulted Cara Gee, the Indigenous actress who plays Raven. Gee executes an excellent performance as the protagonist of the film — strong and capable all while being vulnerable and genuine.

Raven (Cara Gee) in a scene from Trouble in the Garden. (Courtesy of troubleinthegardenfilm on Instagram)

Owen said that a film can touch an individual on an intense level of emotion and her goal for Trouble in the Garden was to give that opportunity to the audience.

“Emotionally, I wanted to give people the opportunity to think. You can read so many statistics and get all this information but in the end, it doesn’t touch you. It can upset you but does not shake you up,” said Owen in an interview with CanCulture.

Trouble in the Garden is a heartbreaking yet beautifully crafted story that shines a light on Indigenous issues in Canada, all while maintaining a solid and truthful demonstration of the effects of the Sixties Scoop. It gives the world an opportunity to connect and forges a path towards recognition, reconciliation and respect.

Through Raven’s journey, the film depicts a storyline filled with change, growth and revelation. Raven battles with the lack of support from her adoptive family and the strenuous relationships between them, all while standing up for the rights she believes in as a protester for Indigenous lands.

Raven’s brother, Colin (Jon Car), is a real estate agent, which is problematic to her cause. Colin’s pregnant wife, Alice (Kelly Van der Berg), harbours distaste for Raven and believes she is a bad influence, especially for their young daughter, Gracie (Persephone Koty).

Once Raven is bailed out of jail by Colin, she is brought to their home, an outsider looking in on a picture perfect family, or so thought. Raven has never felt like she belonged to the family and shows moments of intense heartache when she recalls her past. She feels so distant that she pitches a tent in the backyard to escape the world and swim in her own thoughts, rather than breach the animosity and tense atmosphere within the family she never felt at home with.

Owen does an exceptional job of drawing in the audience through the emotions of Raven’s quick-tempered and fierce persona, which is evident right off the bat in the opening scene at a police station. The narrative also shows Raven’s gentleness as she timidly breaks out of her shell with the help of Gracie’s innocence and acceptance (expertly shown in an adorable scene of playing in the dirt within the garden behind the family’s house).

The audience is kept wondering about the slow-burning drama, before it implodes in a chaotic ending when Raven and Colin’s parents show up to stir up more aspects of betrayal and dishonesty, that drives home all the compelling elements of a raw story.

The Indigenous narrative in film is constantly growing and evolving within Canada, especially with the production of the Indigenous Screen Office in 2018, an organization that is assisting Indigenous media makers with the development of their content.

There is an interest in Indigenous stories due to an urgency for them to be told. Canada is in a process of Truth and Reconciliation, and the growth of the Indigenous film scene gives the opportunity to share Indigenous voices and experience.

Review: The European Short Film Festival at Carlton Cinema

By Ivonne Flores Kauffman

The European Short Film Festival took place on Jan. 31 at the Imagine Cinemas Carlton Cinema in Downtown Toronto. The festival featured seven short films from six European nations (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Czech Republic), each film different from the others.

Mental health, fear, death and hope were some of the central topics of these films. All the material presented at the festival fell into one of two categories: drama or comedy, providing the audience with evoked nostalgia, anger and sadness.

Despite the serious topics addressed in these films, not all of them were well-produced.

Ponožky (Socks) is a Czech dark comedy. Presented at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and directed by Mike Suchmann, this nine-minute film tells the story of Jidi, a man who is unable to rekindle the flame in his marriage. Sadly, his wife’s love is not the only thing that has vanished from Jidi’s life as the film revolves around his mysteriously disappeared socks, which leads him into having a surreal day.

The short comedy presents an uninterested, bored wife and a poor man whose attempts to recover the love of his life are often ignored. In one of the scenes, Jidi’s wife hosts a dinner party where he realizes she is having an affair with one of the guests. After punching the guest in the face and storming out, Jidi locks himself in the bathroom to masturbate. Soon enough, his wife knocks on the door asking him for the divorce. The last scene shows Jidi ejaculating socks all over his wife.

In my opinion, the film was not only weird but also misogynistic. Its results make it hard to emphasize with a man who does nothing to fix his marriage and would rather spend all day feeling sorry for himself. The last scene of this short film is supposed to be funny, but there was not even a hint of laughter from myself and the rest of the audience. The director’s decision to use socks to simulate Jidi’s ejaculation was confusing and offensive. To me, Suchmann’s comedy was not funny and it made me feel quite uncomfortable from beginning to end.

Ponožky was not the only short film that disappointed.  British project Tea & Coffee failed to deliver a neat production. The film directed by Maaya Modha and Adam Patel has an exciting plot about a young British-Indian woman who struggles to deal with her father’s deteriorating health, all while keeping a secret from him. This bittersweet short film shows the difficulties faced by an interracial marriage and the pain of seeing a loved one battling mental illness. Despite being extremely moving, the quality of the film lacked good shots, the scenes were poorly captured and it almost felt like it was produced by amateur filmmakers.

On the other hand, the short films that captured my attention were produced by the youngest filmmakers featured in the festival. The Boy with the Teddy, a 14-minute German film, follows the story of a kid and his teddy bear as he runs away from his dysfunctional home. After facing strangers’ indifference, the boy meets a young adult who takes care of him. Despite approaching topics such as child abuse and loneliness, this film is extremely heartwarming and full of hope.

A scene from the short film  The Boy with the Teddy  by Alessandro Schuster. (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Schuster)

A scene from the short film The Boy with the Teddy by Alessandro Schuster. (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Schuster)

Director Alessandro Schuster was only 16 years old when The Boy with the Teddy won the Platinum Award for Best Acting Ensemble and Gold Award for Best Young Filmmaker and Best Child/Young Actor at the 2018 Independent Short Awards (ISA).

In an email interview, Schuster explained that the five-day shooting presented two significant challenges. The first was to coordinate all the members of the cast and production before and during the shooting.

“Luckily it all worked great at the end! After all, everyone worked for ‘no-budget’," said Schuster.

The second challenge while filming The Boy with the Teddy came during post-production. Schuster explained that some of the scenes shot for this film were improvised. “In our film much is told through flashbacks…When editing, it was difficult to place them meaningful and good, without being exaggerated,” added the young director.

According to the Independent Shorts Awards website, Schuster, who is also an actor, is currently working on various TV productions, has produced and directed a couple of music videos and is attending school.

Another young filmmaker who presented his work at the European Short Film Festival was Jakob Hardeberg Svensen. His nine-minute production Games We Play, was shot during a Danish spring day. The film follows three 11-year-old friends’ (Johan, Clara and Felix) first encounter with death.

Behind the scenes of the short film  Games We Play.  (Photo courtesy of   Jakob Svensen)

Behind the scenes of the short film Games We Play. (Photo courtesy of Jakob Svensen)

“[Death] doesn’t have a big significance to them. At a certain age they become more interested and develop a morbid fascination for adult rituals such as funerals,” said Svensen in an email interview about his coming-of-age production.

“For me as a director the film wasn’t necessarily a story about death, but more about the memory of a timeless childhood.”  

Svensen’s inspiration to create this film came from his own childhood memories. The film’s aesthetic is composed of a range of grey and green tones, the outdoor and indoor scenes and the lack of dialogue which all work to transport the viewer to their own childhood memories. Games We Play was the most mentally stimulating film presented at the festival.

The European Short Film Festival, an excellent platform for film enthusiasts to enjoy different productions, was made possible by WILDsound. If you are interested in film festivals, check the WILDsound events website.