Film Reviews

Review: ‘White Ravens: Legacy of Resurgence’

DOXA 2018

White Ravens: A Legacy of Resistance
(USA, 85 min.)
Dir. Georg Koszulinski

Residents of Haida Gwaii bear witness to the scars of history in White Ravens: A Legacy of Resistance. This well-intentioned doc by American filmmaker Georg Koszulinski demonstrates that the urgency of reconciliation is gaining attention outside of Canada as Indigenous communities speak of their traumatic experiences in residential schools. White Ravens, unfortunately, isn’t a particularly strong addition to the conversation despite the merits of the stories it contains.

The film takes audiences to Haida Gwaii to convey the resilience of the Haida having survived the consequences of colonialism. Towustasin Stocker, Erika Stocker, Geoff Greene, William Brotchie, and Ralph Stocker are among the voices that testify to the hell they and/or their ancestors endured in the residential schools. There are the stories of abuse, cultural genocide, alcoholism, addiction, and endless cycles of violence as trauma passed from generation to generation. The world needs to hear their bitter truths.

However, few of the subjects have strong screen presence. (Even Towustasin Stocker, a beat poet, is pretty one-note.) Monotonous interviews aren’t done any favours by Koszulinski’s lethargic direction, while dim, flat lighting mutes the hopefulness one needs to feel in their stories. The rambling style dulls the subjects’ words and betrays the film’s overall lack of focus. When so many films — Birth of a Family, Maker of Monsters: The Extraordinary Life of Beau Dick, We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice — present with greater emotional impact the testimony of the many ways that Canada has violated the rights of Indigenous communities, and continues to do so, White Ravens struggles to assert its necessity.

Koszulinski also risks presented a romanticized view of Haida Gwaii, which is an understandable temptation given that its lush verdant landscape offers one of the most beautiful sights in Canadian geography. Many shots drink up the rolling beaches, while walks through the forest let the camera tilt upwards to the treetops. Sometimes the landscape porn proves productive, like when a stroll through the woods highlights the devastating deforestation and the new forms of colonialism that invade Indigenous communities. But audiences saw this story presented with greater depth, focus, and cinematic power in Charles Wilkinson’s Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World.

The subjects’ stories are essential in the greater narrative of reconciliation. One just wishes the film did them more justice.

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Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Complex and ran the former blog Cinemablographer. He is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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