New SIFF Review: Winds of Heaven

If you haven't heard of Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945), this documentary is a dull but informative account of a career that had only a second act. The headstrong daughter of a Victoria, B.C. merchant, she trained a painter there and in London and Paris. Only in 1927, however, were her post-Impressionist renderings of Native American villages and totem poles discovered and given national recognition.

This was some 15 years after she'd effectively quit painting, after numerous field trips up the Inside Passage and beyond (represented here by lots of wonderful newsreels and stills). Suddenly a Canadian national celebrity at age 56, an eccentric old maid running a boarding house with her parrot and pet monkey, Carr was celebrated as the Margaret Mead of her day. (Whitman or Gauguin would be better comparisons.) And though not a trained anthropologist, her subsequent writings on native art and culture were informed by a girlhood when Indians outnumbered settlers. As the Salish and Haida later went into rapid decline (i.e., were forced only reservations and decimated by disease, along with most other Northwest tribes), Carr's lasting contribution was to be an outspoken, ornery preservationist and idealist for their creations. Whether her watercolors of their rotting totem poles meant what they originally intended probably doesn't matter so much. Her outcry eclipsed her art, and that's an accomplishment in itself. BRIAN MILLER (Admiral: 6 p.m. Mon., May 30.)

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