Sunday, February 4, 2024

Wendy Feinberg on Sugarcane (2024) Sundance 2024


Of the many documentary films I watched at this year’s Sundance Film Festival,  the world premiere of SUGARCANE, in my estimation, ranks among the best and  most important at the festival. I am not sure if I will be able to do this film the  justice that it deserves, but I will try.  

The film, co-directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie, won the well deserved Directing Award in U.S. Documentary category at the festival and tells  the very powerful and emotional story of the indigenous children who lived on the  Sugarcane Indian Reservation in Canada and attended the St. Joseph’s Mission  Residential School.  

Beginning in 1894 indigenous Canadian children were forced to attend Canadian  government schools, most run by the Catholic Church. There were rumors of  abuse at these schools and unmarked graves were found of children who died  while living at the St. Joseph’s Mission School. In the film, many members of the  Sugarcane reservation are interviewed. A young Chief Willie Sellars speaks about  what has been done in the recent past to heal and honor the survivors, including  the celebration of Orange Shirt Day, honoring children taken from families and  sent to the mission. We meet Charlene Belleau, who is investigating the abuses at  the school, including the mysterious unmarked graves. Now deceased, I was  moved by Rick Gilbert, a survivor of the mission school, who traveled with a  group to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the cruelties  experienced at the school. We hear from many other survivors of the abuses that  occurred at St. Joseph’s, including Ed Archie Noisecat, who is co-director Julian  Brave NoiseCat’s father, as well as his father’s mother (Julian’s grandmother), two  of the many that experienced multi-generational abuse at the school.  

It was heartbreaking to hear about the horrific physical and sexual abuse that  occurred at the school which led to the school being closed down in 1981.  Unfortunately, this abuse led to many unwanted pregnancies and deaths at the  school, as well as alcoholism, abandonment issues and a number of suicides by  survivors after leaving the school.  

Although sometimes disturbing to listen to the stories told by the survivors, I feel  that SUGARCANE is a gripping film that needs to be seen by all as a reminder of  the injustices that have been wrought upon native people, not only in Canada, but  around the world. In the film it is mentioned that this is also an American story  where more than twice as many children were taken from their families.  Highly recommended!

1 comment:

  1. Superb film.
    Best documentary I have seen this year! Highly recommended.