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The Genius Of Marie Clements

Marie Clements Is A Force Of Nature

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Story by Lin Stranberg
Photos courtesy of Marie Clements

She is a Métis/Dene fi lmmaker, playwright, screenwriter, composer, director and producer whose award-winning documentary and feature fi lms have screened around the world—at Cannes, TIFF, MOMA and VIFF, among others. Her work as a playwright has been decorated with the Canada- Japan Literary Award and two Governor General’s Literary Award nominations, and her plays have been presented on some of the most prestigious stages for Canadian and international work.

Bones of Crows is the first Indigenous and female-led, produced, written and directed drama about the residential school experience in North America.

She wrote, directed and produced Red Snow, a 2019 feature fi lm that tells the story of a Gwich’in soldier from the Canadian Arctic who is captured by the Taliban in Panjwayi, Afghanistan, and escapes across rough terrain with a Pashtun family. It was shot in four languages: Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, Pashto and English. In 2019, Red Snow was nominated for several Leo Awards, named Most Popular Canadian Feature Film at VIFF, and Best Canadian Feature Film at the Edmonton International Film Festival. In California, it won Best Feature Director and Best Achievement in Film from the L.A. Skins Festival and earned nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. In 2020, it won Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Feature at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival.

Her latest work is Bones of Crows, a multi-generational epic drama grounded in historical truth, a story from Canada’s dark past that highlights the resilience and strength of Indigenous people, their language and culture, in the face of multiple injustices that are collectively considered to be cultural genocide. It is at once a fi ve part CBC miniseries which debuted on the national network and the CBC Gem streaming service September 20, 2023, and a full-length feature fi lm whose premiere was at TIFF in 2022. They were shot together, which was challenging in itself, and the COVID-19 pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to the project. “We were working in full-on COVID for about eight months,” Clements said. There were 57 shooting days, plus months of pre- and post-production work.

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Then it was time to edit the miniseries episodes into a feature fi lm. “It was a hard edit to get it down to a feature length. Deep down in my heart I was hoping for a long movie, and I was ever hopeful, she said, as directors are.

As a five-part miniseries, Bones of Crows is around five hours in length. Bones of Crows, as a feature film, is just over two hours long. Of necessity, the film touches on each issue and keeps on moving. The miniseries, on the other hand, takes viewers through a more fully developed journey through the genocide and its aftermath (residential school sweeps, the losses, the abuses, the murdered indigenous girls and women, the indigenous status during and after wartime, starvation, illness, addiction, alcoholism, suicide, depression). Frequent flashbacks and time jumps in each contribute to the viewer’s grasp of the intergenerational trauma and its roots.

The story takes place around the horrors of colonialism in Canada and the resilience of the Indigenous people and their culture. It is seen through the lives of a family of Cree women headed by matriarch Aline Spears (played by Grace Dove; younger Aline by Summer Testawich; and older Aline by Carla- Rae). They represent Indigenous women who continue to advocate for human rights despite the injustices they endure, demonstrating their dignity, tenacity and resilience in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles.

Connecting with characters based on truth opens your heart to understanding other people’s point of view…

Clements’s own mother was a residential school survivor, but didn’t talk about it to her children. A lot of those memories were too painful to share, although the trauma was deep-rooted.

In those days, she said, people didn’t talk about hard things very easily. My mother really only started talking about it when she was in her sixties.

Her mother left the north in her early twenties to live on Galiano Island. In 1962, Marie Clements was born in Vancouver and, like her mother before her, now lives on Galiano Island. Bones of Crows was commissioned into development by CBC in 2019. The intention was to create a large-scale dramatic production that gave voice to the multigenerational effect of the residential school experience in Canada. It was also made in response to the calls to action that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommends from the CBC, SRC, APTN and other federal institutions to create public programming and education about the history of residential schools in Canada, and to support Reconciliation.

Bones of Crows is the first Indigenous and female-led, produced, written and directed drama about the residential school experience in North America. 


The project was very large, bringing together some 180 cast members and 150 different sets shot in five different regions across British Columbia. Five generations of Indigenous performers and some of Canada’s most outstanding Indigenous and non-Indigenous talent came together to tell a story of hard truths that challenges a singular vision of history in order to create change.

One of the actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to let these stories be told. There haven’t been that many stories of residential schools in Canada, Clements said.

I think we can agree that connecting with characters based on truth opens your heart to understanding other people’s point of view, and the ability to feel empathy for someone else has the ability to change attitudes going forward.

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