The Healing Winds Trailer
The late Reepah Arreak played an Inuit residential school survivor to perfection in 'The Healing Winds,' which took Grand Prize at the Montreal First Peoples Festival 2014.

Residential School Survival Drama ‘Healing Winds’ Takes Grand Prize at Montreal First Peoples Festival

Theresa Braine

From struggles against giant oil companies, to a children’s tale, to residential school survival, the films that swept the awards of the Montreal First Peoples Festival 2014 each offered a unique view into the indigenous psyche.

Grand Prize went to The Healing Winds, which used the very poverty and limitations that could have hampered filmmaker Joël Montañez to instead serve as the impetus for this Inuit story of residential school survival.

“The poverty of the means at the filmmaker’s disposal, far from confining him to creative indigence, seems on the contrary to have opened doors to inventiveness to him, letting the blast of polar winds that gives his film its title penetrate his work,” said Montreal First Peoples Festival organizers in their comments.

The film tells the story of Michael, a psychotherapist assigned to work in the village of Salluit, in the Arctic region of Nunavik, and his interaction with Reepah, a patient recovering from years of abuse and trauma in the residential school system. Though fiction, it is based on the experiences of the filmmaker himself.

“In this singular cinematic work, fiction reaches its full documentary potential,” the description reads.

Starring Reepah Arreak, who has since died, the English-French-Inuktitut film took 15 years to make—possibly because of its wrenching subject matter, Montañez told the Nunatsiaq News.

“It’s an extremely complex and painful process and that’s why the film was made,” Montanez told a packed auditorium after the screening at Cinémathèque Québécoise on Sunday August 3, according to the Nunatsiaq News. “It was dramatic as it could be in certain moments, it was as informative as it could be in another moment.”

Arreak is one of three cast members who have died since the movie began filming in 1999, the Nunatsiaq News said. She “froze to death out on the land,” the newspaper said, attributing the information to Montañez.

The Healing Winds was just one of 47 films that screened, many of them premiering, at the Montreal First Peoples Festival, which wrapped up on August 5. Information on all the films can be found at the Montreal First Peoples Festival 2014 website. 

Tunteyh o el Rumor de las Piedras took second prize in the festival competition “for the osmotic relation it establishes with an Indigenous reality too complex to be grasped by an outside eye,” the festival’s judges said of this film about the Guarani in Argentina, made by Marina Rubino.

“Far from cinematographic pretentions aiming to endow images with all the weight of reality, here is a documentary that adopts the patient rhythm of Guarani speech and lets itself be infused with the spiritual fluidity of the world as seen by Amerindians,” said the festival comments on this documentary.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
White Canadians must be as wacky as White Americans. They nominate a film about the systematic abuse of Native people for a Grand Prize award, but a monument dedicated to those Natives who survived just such a boarding school is desecrated in broad daylight without a witness.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
@Michael Madrid: The Montreal First Peoples Festival is put on by Quebec Native groups in the primarily French-speaking eastern part of the country; and the monument desecration occurred thousands of miles away, in British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Editors: Thank you for clarifying that. I guess my ignorance of Canadian geography is evident. I applaud the organizers of the First Peoples Festival for bringing the truth of boarding schools to light. So sad that Ms. Arreak and others have walked on before they could see the honor bestowed upon the film for their contributions.