Original-Cin Q&A: Trouble in the Garden director Roz Owen on the 'Sixties Scoop' and white filmmakers telling Aboriginal stories

 By Thom Ernst

I met Roz Owen at Cinefest 2018 in Sudbury where she was premiering her film Trouble in the Garden, a movie on the theme of the “Sixties Scoop” - aboriginal children adopted by white families as part of a policy to erase their culture. 

I was on hand to introduce the film and to moderate the Q&A that followed (as I have done, over the years with many films).  Because of festivals like Cinefest and the upcoming Kingston Canadian Festival, I’ve met many great filmmakers, and have seen many fine films. 

Some stand out more than others, and so it is with Trouble in the Garden. The film became personal in ways I could not have imagined. And I was not the only one in the audience who felt the same. 

Read our review of Trouble in the Garden

Trouble in the Garden– which opens in Toronto and Calgary Feb. 15 - marks Roz Owen’s debut as a feature filmmaker.  Her direction is bold, the performances are brave and the result is a film no one is likely to forget. 

Trouble in the Garden plants the seeds of a family drama, but what sprouts from those seeds is something entirely original and unexpected. The film focuses on Raven, a young Indigenous woman, recently bailed out of jail by her adoptive brother after being incarcerated for disrupting the peace. 

Raven, known to her family as Pippa, is an activist, a protestor and, to her family, a troublemaker. 

I’m happy for the opportunity to reconnect with Roz, even if only by phone. 

Director Roz Owen and cast members Cara Gee and Jon Cor on the set of Trouble in the Garden

Director Roz Owen and cast members Cara Gee and Jon Cor on the set of Trouble in the Garden

THOM ERNST: Welcome Roz. I really don’t think we can begin talking about your latest film without first touching on some of your earlier works. There seems to be a line of social and political interest in your work leading up to this latest film, Trouble in the Garden.

ROZ OWEN:“I’m certainly driven to tell stories that are about something important. That drives me. Though—God—I’d love to direct a comedy sometime. But clearly, I couldn’t be the one who wrote it. 

“I made a film about (activist artists) Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge with my partner, Jim Miller.  It was a documentary. I’ve known them for years and I thought their work really looked like film stills and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to make a film where people could step out of their work and speak?’ 

“Because they’re incredibly political – their work.  They had a show at the AGO in 1976 and they haven’t been shown there since because there was an uproar. Somebody on the board decided they were Communists. Turned into this huge thing. 

“And I just thought, people have got to know about these artists because they’re extraordinary. Their work is extraordinary, their passion for social justice, they’re trying to make the world a better place. They’ve been doing this for years, and yet they’re not that well known.” 

ERNST: Did your film, Community Matters: The Art of Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge bring them that needed recognition?

OWEN:“I think so. I wish it brought more than it did. If you start with a famous person, it works a bit better. But we’ve shown it in universities all over the country. We had a lot of screenings and a lot of students were really moved by it, and Carole and Karl were their heroes. So, yeah, a lot more people know about them now because of this film.”

ERNST: That must be satisfying knowing your film draws attention to these artists and their cause, which, I think moves us nicely into discussing Trouble in the Garden. Trouble in the Garden has, I think, its roots firmly planted in the family drama narrative. But it’s so much more, dealing with Indigenous land issues, and the unsettling facts about the “Sixties Scoop.”  What can you tell us about the film without giving away the ending… an ending that left some audience members gasping.

OWEN: “Yeah. I was hoping it would do that.  Because I really like to make work that can shift somebody’s thinking; or can flip somebody’s thinking. I think that’s one of the things I think drama can be so powerful. 

“I learned about the Sixties Scoop from my sister-in-law. And when I met her in the ‘90s and over the years heard more and more of her story—she was taken and put into a foster family—I began to understand that this was a Canadian government policy that happened after the residential schools. 

“They place indigenous children into white families, extensively, to make them white. That’s what the residential schools were about, but it’s been a secret in Canada. That’s one of the things that compelled me. Not that my sister-in-law is the character Raven in the film, because it’s a drama so they’re made-up characters. 

“There’s that, but there are a few (other) things that inspired me. We had family friends when we were growing up whose father was very much a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. He treated one of his children as a success and the other as a total failure. It was excruciating to be around it. I never forgot that.

“And at a certain point it hit me that, that’s what Canada’s been doing to Indigenous People. I see this film metaphorically. The ‘family’ is a metaphor for Canada and Raven is a metaphor for the land.”

ERNST: Very strong and likely accurate, metaphors that are sure to illicit strong responses. How have people been responding to the film…again without revealing the final moment?

 OWEN:“I think with shock. And certainly, people want to talk about it. It’s a film people need to speak about. They want to ask questions. They want to understand it.  

“I can metaphorically speak as a writer. They become very real characters to me. I love them all. I didn’t want to make simple characters that were evil. They’re characters who are trying not to see something that is right in front of them. They didn’t want to see it. They are not evilin that way. I know people are surprised that they are as nice as they are.

“I think Canadians are nice. But we’ve also done some incredibly awful things. It’s the denial that I’m interested in. There’s that quote from George Orwell which is, ‘If you want to keep a secret, you must first hide it from yourself.’ 

“I think we can know things but not want to fully know it. (The family) likes to smooth things over and make things go away. To me, the root of the problem in that family is the father who is so sure that he knows the truth. He’s difficult.”

ERNST: Yes, the father can be frustratingly arrogant, much of that is credited to Frank Moore’s performance. But I also found Lillie, the mother, as played by Fiona Reid, also at fault. Perhaps it was her complacency?

OWEN:“I think it was because she can’t stand up to him. She can’t. She tries, and kind of teases him about things. 

“She wants to have a lovely family. She wants it all to be fine. That’s quite human. We all do that sometime. ‘Can we just move on, and not talk about the bad stuff? Let’s talk about the great stuff.’  Sometimes it’s not really the right thing to do. I think she’s shattered by the end.”

ERNST: We’ve brought up Raven who is an essential, if not the essential, character in the film. Chances are that audiences are going to walk away from the film more empowered because Raven is more empowered. But for Raven to get to her truth she must first disrupt the family when they are celebrating something wonderful. Some might question Raven’s timing. 

OWEN: “It wasn’t her plan to have been in the family at all. Colin (Jon Cor), who decided he was going to bail her out for his own guilt. And he’s a slippery character. He’s like his mom, in a way: ‘Let’s not talk about that. Let’s move on.’”

ERNST: I’m finding it difficult to talk about this film without revealing too much. So much of the film’s strength is in the looking back at everything you’ve shown us once the film is over.

OWEN:“I was hoping to leave enough bread crumbs so that you would think back and it would play on your mind. You would see something and think, “Well, that was a bit odd,” and then later think, ‘Oh, I see…’”

ERNST:  I suspect many people are going to assume they know the ending before they reach it, and they’ll be wrong. Are you purposefully playing with story and character archetypes to jolt the audience in the final reel?

OWEN: “I did do that. I wanted it to be enough of a surprise at the end that it would haunt you. I don’t know if you know the film Celebration, Thom…”

ERNST: One of my top ten…

OWEN: “Oh my God. Well, when I called Raven Sinclair (a U of Regina professor who is a survivor of the “’Sixties Scoop”) to collaborate with me - I’d love to talk about Raven at some point in this interview because she is so integral to this film - she said, ‘(Celebration) was one of my favourite films, I have to watch it every six months.’  And I knew then that I found the person to work with.

“Not that (Trouble in the Garden) is like (Celebration) but it is inspired by Celebration, for sure. I just thought that that film never left me. It was like, ‘People have to keep saying the same thing over and over and over again and it keeps being ignored until finally it’s revealed and nobody can deny it anymore.’

“I did something different with (Trouble in the Garden) because I knew what I wanted to do was make Raven, herself, somebody who was really difficult. She’s a protestor. She’s angry. I wanted to make it so that in the beginning you thought, ‘This poor family. They’re being so kind and she’s complaining about the bath soap,’ and then to flip it so that you’d understand why. That was intentional. I didn’t want to make her this perfect character. I didn’t want her to be simple.

Cara Gee is an extraordinary actor. Her star is rising. An extraordinary actor.”

 ERNST: The film focuses a great deal on Raven, an Indigenous character played, as you mentioned, remarkably well by Cara Gee. The film raises a lot of Indigenous concerns and issues. Are you anticipating any push-back from communities that might be apprehensive to embrace your film because you, the director and writer, are not Indigenous?

OWEN: “I think the timing of this is extraordinary in that way, because I think we’re right up against it in terms of voice. I understand it. I really hope this film will inspire a lot of other filmmakers and Indigenous people who’ve been scooped to tell their story. There are extraordinary stories. This is not one of the worst. There are really tough stories to be told and need to be told. 

“But I did work very closely with Raven Sinclair because one of the things I didn’t want to do was to end up…. 


“I know the white story. I lived it. I’m white. I’ve always been white. I get it. But I wanted to make Raven the lead, for sure. And that was really important to me, because it’s a woman’s story. Very much. 

“I knew that was a problem Cara knew. I spoke about it a lot with her. I think it just exploded – the whole issue of voice has exploded in the last while. I think it’s hard for her to be a spokesperson for the film at this point. And I can understand that.

“I probably shouldn’t speak for her, that’s not fair.”

“I have to say I’m so proud about this film. I’ve had people who’ve been ‘scoop survivors’ who are so moved by this story. And I say that not as my words…that’s Raven Sinclair’s. That’s somebody who stood by me the whole film, through all the editing and all the different parts of making this film and kept bringing that perspective into the film.  

“I’ve had my own experience with four or five scoop survivors who are profoundly affected by (the film). I know I would have been dead in the water without Raven Sinclair. That’s the piece for me that’s so important. 

“I don’t think white people should be telling Indigenous stories unless they’re working with somebody who is with them on the film, who is part of the creative process.”

Original-Cin Q&A: Mary Poppins Returns' Emily Mortimer on her dual fear of heights and singing

The long awaited, much anticipated Mary Poppins Returns hits theatres just in time for the holidays on Wednesday, Dec 19th. It is every bit as magical and delightful as the original Mary Poppins which was released more than a half-century ago, in 1964. 

Emily Blunt stars as everyone’s childhood-favourite nanny alongside Broadway veteran Lin-Manuel Miranda who plays Jack the Lamplighter.  

The sequel is set 30 years after the original Mary Poppins film, when Jane and Michael (now played by Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) are grown up. Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family in order to help them to re-discover the magic of life once again. 

Read our review of Mary Poppins Returns

With plenty of nods to the original film, this sequel not only pays homage to the classic nostalgia but also transports us to a new, exciting age of adventures with the magical nanny.

Emily Mortimer as a grown-up Jane in Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Mortimer as a grown-up Jane in Mary Poppins Returns

Our Bonnie Laufer spoke with Emily Mortimer who plays Jane about working on the film and why the entire experience has meant so much to her.  

 ORIGINAL-CIN: Welcome to Toronto and thank you for coming to discuss this absolutely spectacular film. I loved it so much,  I have already seen it twice! 

EMILY MORTIMER: “Are you serious?” 

OC: I am completely serious! 

EM: “How?” 

OC: I have my ways .. much like the magical Mary Poppins! (Both laugh)  Emily, what has it meant to you personally to be a part of this?  I am sure as a young girl you grew up with the original. And now fast forward 50 years, and you are in the sequel.

EM:  “It’s quite extraordinary, and I know it’s only going to feel better and better as time moves on and more people see it. But already, the reactions have been so fantastic. I have never been part of anything that has had such a broad appeal  and has been so universally loved.”

OC: It really is quite an amazing and special opportunity.

EM: “I grew up loving cinema and loving the original movie. But I love movies, and the fact that I am in a film that is actually going to be seen by millions of people in a movie theatre to me is  about as thrilling as it gets.  

This film kind of connects us to the history of cinema since it’s the history of Disney, and there are so many connections to the original movie, including the marvelous Dick Van Dyke, so it’s just  a total thrill to be a part of all this.”

OC: Since you mentioned Dick Van Dyke, let’s go there.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to have someone like him on set.  What he does in this movie is mind boggling. Tap dancing on a desk at the age of 91. He’s truly fantastic! 

EM: “I know, right? It’s insane. People keep asking me if that scene was CGI and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? He’s the real deal!’ 

There is no doubt in my mind that he embodies the spirit of  what the message of this movie is. There’s nothing more important than to try and keep the spirit of the child alive into adulthood, and  very few people manage it.  He is full of life and love and  curiosity and fun, and he is now 92 and still going strong. He’s an advert for how to age, which is basically, ‘Don’t!  Just remain a child and love life to the fullest.’”

OC: I understand you spent a little time with Karen Dotrice, the actress who played young Jane Banks in the original movie.

EM: “Yes, I did and she is so cool.  She’s about 65 now and has her own children, but she is just so cool and funny and feisty and so down to earth. 

“To see her walk on to the set and walk down the recreated Cherry Tree Lane for the first time in 54 years was an extraordinary moment.  She was literally taken back in time and was so overcome with emotion. It was tremendously nostalgic and moving. It was a real privilege to be with her when it happened.”

OC:  Your director Rob Marshall did such a great job on this movie. But he also was adamant about staying true to the original film as much as possible.  Is it true that he would play the original soundtrack during the set-up of certain scenes to make it nostalgic for the cast?  You had to be pinching yourself for most of the shoot. 

EM: “Yes, I was pinching myself a lot while making this movie. Actually for once in my life I truly did not want the experience to end.  I normally wish everything away, or want to be somewhere else. I am constantly feeling guilty being away because I want to be with my kids or I think, ‘What am i doing here, looking after somebody else’s kids?’

“But on this film shoot I never felt like that.  On this one occasion I actually managed to feel very grateful. It would have been impossible not to realize how lucky you were, and I know that everyone in this cast and crew felt the same way. I just knew that I was so privileged to be there and treasure every moment and not take one minute for granted.”

OC: Why do you think 'Mary Poppins' is still such a family favourite? 

EM:  “I think because it captures something in all of our fantasies about this kind of magical parent figure that isn't our parents. Mary Poppins, although strict and proper, has a sense of wonder about her and is very loving and of course magical. She represents the person we would ALL love to take care of us and have fun with. 

“The story and the movie is an important part of all of our childhoods. It was my mother's and then it was my childhood, and it was my own kids' childhood (now 15 and 16). They first watched that film from when they were about three years old.”

OC: You got to conquer a few of your fears making this film. You not only have a fear of heights, but you are not particularly fond of singing and you had to do both! 

EM: “You’re right, I hate doing both of those things.  They terrify me. Yet in one scene I had to do both at the same time!  I was being suspended in the air to make it look like i was flying and I had to sing! I’m very bad at both things and I hate them. I am very scared of heights and I can’t sing for toffee.”

OC: You did great! 

EM: “Well I have to tell you that I had very sweaty palms for the entire time. And I felt most sorry for poor Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is my love interest in the movie. He had to hold my hand for hours at a time. He had to keep wiping the sweat from my clammy hands off his hands. It was awful.”

OC Rob Marshall has said that, especially in the times we are currently living in, he hopes that this movie will bring joy and hope to people. How do you feel about that? 

 EM:  “I completely agree and from what I am hearing already it’s making people happy. This film is intravenous entertainment. Just when you think you can’t take any more of it, Dick Van Dyke pops up, or there’s another incredible song and dance number, or beautiful hand-drawn animation, or appearances by Angela Lansbury or Meryl Streep, and so on.  

“It just makes you feel good and I agree, it is something we need right now and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!”