Trouble in the Garden

Trouble in the Garden is a story about an estranged family in the aftermath of the 60’s Scoop.

Most non-Indigenous Canadians are blissfully unaware that between 1960-85, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and adopted into white families in an effort to make them white. As the film opens, Raven (29) is arrested for protesting development on unceded land. Long estranged from her adoptive family, she never imagined her brother Colin (31) would be the one to bail her out. Now under house arrest in Colin’s suburban home, Raven discovers he’s in real estate – pre-selling houses on the very land she’s been trying to save. Trouble in the Garden is a story of reckoning with betrayal of land, love and blood.

Roz Owen

Born in London, UK, and moving to Canada as a child, Roz Owen is an award-winning Toronto based writer-director. She began making films as an art student in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her first, a 16mm, experimental short, ‘A PRECAUTION AGAINST THE INEVITABLE’, was awarded the Theresa Cha Award and went on to screen at the AGO and other venues. Moving back to Toronto, she followed up with the short drama, ‘A LOVE OF CONTRADICTION’, which premiered at TIFF and was licensed for television. Her year-long Director-residency at the Canadian Film Centre culminated with production of her Genie nominated and award-winning short, ‘YOU LOVE ME I HATE YOU’. Premiering at Locarno, it then screened at festivals around the world.

For a period, she directed episodic television, but remained focused on writing and directing her own independent productions. Having penned four feature scripts, in 2006 she was awarded WIFT’s KODAK New Vision Fellowship for her Writing. In 2007 she, and partner Jim Miller, were sparked to document pioneering artist-activists, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge. This led to their award-winning short, ‘COMMUNITY MATTERS’ (2008), and then their critically acclaimed feature doc, ‘PORTRAIT OF RESISTANCE’ (2012). In an art form where women directors are chronically under-represented, Roz has persisted. Shot in twelve days ‘TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN’ is her dramatic feature film début. Roz currently teaches Film production at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. Her next feature will be ‘LOOK BOTH WAYS’, a Canada-UK coproduction.

Raven Sinclair is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Treaty 4. A professor of social work — and a sixties scoop survivor/activist — her work on issues of Indigenous child welfare, adoption, historical trauma and recovery was kindled by her experiences. In addition to her public advocacy, public speaking and published academic writings, she has also produced the documentary film “A Truth to be Told “about the removal of children from Splatsin First Nation (BC) during the 1960s, and is writing a play about Indigenous child welfare and intergenerational trauma. With “Trouble in the Garden” she has been Roz Owen’s key collaborator. Raven is a mother to a teenage daughter who is the centre of her universe.

What inspired your film?

There are multiple inspirations:

I was compelled to write Trouble in the Garden after hearing my sister in law’s story. Before we met, I had never heard of the 60’s Scoop. As I learned how she and all her siblings were taken and put in foster homes, I realized there were things I didn’t know about this country.

To me it feels as though non-indigenous Canadians have a collective amnesia about how our colonial behaviour has affected Indigenous people. I thought if I could wrap audiences up in the emotional story, that I had a chance to flip people’s thinking. The fact that this story gives hope to scoop survivors is incredibly moving to me. The authenticity of this story is due to my collaboration with Raven Sinclair. Raven is our hero. I named her after Raven Sinclair.

Growing up I knew a family where the father treated one child as a success and the other as a failure. He was a my-way-or-the-highway kind of man. His behaviour had a profound effect. As the script was taking shape, I began to see this family as a metaphor for the way Canada has mistreated Indigenous people.

Reading Thomas King’s “The Inconvenient Indian”, revealed to me that land is key, and how Canada took the land is at the root of our problems. This inspired me to make Raven a land activist and her brother Colin, a real estate agent. I can’t imagine anything as soul destroying as having your child taken away. After my son was born I realised I could never have survived if he was taken from me. We Canadian’s love to feel we live in a multicultural society. In many ways we’ve been successful, but under the surface there are scarier truths about the ways we obtained these lands through our colonial policies and beliefs. And it is still going on.

“The Sixties Scoop refers to the post-residential school period in Canadian history where thousands of Indigenous children were removed from families and communities and placed for adoption in non-Indigenous homes. Some of those adoptions were successful; many were not. The Scoop has operated within a culture of silence for over 70 years and Canadians are only learning about it due to news reports of a recent successful Sixties scoop class action lawsuit against the federal government. This film gives an important voice to survivors by accurately representing the social, and psychological chaos intrinsic to the Scoop experience. Cara Gee, who plays a Scoop survivor and land activist, does an amazing job of capturing the nuances of the culture and identity conflicts confronting survivors of the Scoop, the inescapable frustrations of existing in the liminal space between two very different cultures and social worlds, and the irreconcilability of the adoption experience and its outcomes, with Indigenous lived reality.” – Raven Sinclair

What was the biggest challenge in making your film?

I was very lucky to have such extraordinary actors, but it was tough to shoot an emotionally complex drama in 12 shooting days. It was also a challenge to make a film that felt more of a collaboration than any other film I had made previously. I was so lucky to find Raven Sinclair who worked with me on the script and became one of the exec producers.

Until recently it has been hell for many women directors to get their films financed. It is crazy. We are half the population. There seems to be a shift beginning to happen now. With people like Anna Serner who turned the Swedish film Institute around we have some amazing role models. I am driven to get women and girl’s stories onto the screen. And I hope to never hear the words “Why can’t it be a boy” again.

What was the best part of the experience for you?

There are stories I am driven to tell, but the rewriting is a long process and I would be very interested in finding someone else’s script I could fall in love with. Working with actors and seeing a film come alive with the performances is an extraordinary experience. I have such respect for actors. Production is filled with magical chance things that happen. It is incredibly rewarding and challenging, though stressful for sure. But honestly, I think that picture and sound editing is my favourite part. It is so creative. I wake up dreaming of new cuts. Seeing an audience moved by the film, shook up by the film. Film is the most powerful artistic story-telling medium. There is nothing better than screening a film with an audience who are engaged in the film and then talking about it afterwards. Festivals are so important.

As well as my collaboration with Raven, I also worked with Barbara Croall who composed the extraordinary music where Raven’s ancestors were always speaking to her. I reminded Barbara that Raven wouldn’t understand as she was raised white. Barbara said, “Oh but she will.” She was so right. We also have two other fantastic songs: We are Circling by Buffy Sainte Marie and Plane Song by Ottawa’s Twin Flames. Adding sound effects, breathing, every aspect of post-production is so rewarding.

What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?

It is hard work and perseverance. You need to be able to drive your film past a lot of people who tell you it can’t be done. It is a crazy amount of money needed to make films. Even small budgets are still a massive amount of money. When you are starting out I would make lots of short films on small budgets so you shoot yourself and get lots of experience. The digital revolution has made this so much more possible.

What’s next for you?

I am continuing with the theme of giving voice to the outsider, but this time I am using my own emigrating experience as the jumping off point. Bigger budget and longer shooting time I can only hope. Her Mum is dead, her dad is reborn and the Girl next door is making life hell. LOOK BOTH WAYS is seen through the eyes of a defiant 9-year-old misfit, Vivian Cubbage, whose family emigrates from a small town in Yorkshire, UK to small-town Canada. Her mum, thinking of British traffic, steps of the curb and forgets to look both ways. Definitely dark and excruciatingly humorous, it is a story of how Vivian copes with the accidental death of her mother and her father’s rebirth as a fundamentalist Christian. Unable to deal with her new born-again dad, Vivian fights to get her ‘old dad’ back again. In the process, she finds the courage to be herself while under incredible pressure to conform. Peering into huge life questions through the eyes of an odd-ball child, LOOK BOTH WAYS is a tale of resilience and courage.

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