Returning Home Wins Again
by Staff Editors
(October 21, 2021 – Ottawa, ON) Secwépemc director Sean Stiller’s Returning Home, the first feature length documentary from Canadian Geographic Films, has received top recognition at three western Canadian international film festivals — taking home the best Canadian documentary award from three respective juries.
Returning Home profiles Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Jack-Webstad (pictured above) and her family’s struggle to heal from the multigenerational impact of attending the notorious St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Secwépemc territory. In an interweaving storyline, amid a global pandemic and the lowest salmon run in Canadian history, the film also explores how a multi-year federal fishing moratorium tears at the very fabric of Secwépemc communities and centuries-old traditions. The documentary is the first feature film from both director Sean Stiller and Canadian Geographic Films.
Its first award came at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) where it was awarded Best Canadian Documentary. In a video shared online by CIFF, the Director Guild of Canada’s Hans Engel announced the winner. “The jury selected [Returning Home] for being a timely film that urges the viewer to reflect on the importance of healing for both people and nature — and effectively shows that one cannot happen without the other,” said Engel.
A few days later, Returning Home also won the juried Best Canadian Documentary award from the Edmonton International Film Festival, which was announced at the film’s northern premiere on September 30 in Edmonton.
Returning Home was also selected to kick off the Vancouver International Film Festival’s high school programming series on the morning of Oct. 1, 2021, with in-person and virtual screenings for students from Vancouver and beyond. Curtis Woloschuk, VIFF’s associate director of programming, announced Stiller’s third award win during a video that was shared on the festival’s Facebook page. “After one hour of deliberation, we chose Returning Home by Sean Stiller, a powerful community portrait that intersects the impacts of colonization and environmental collapse, as the winner of Best Canadian Documentary.”
The VIFF jury was moved by the power of the protagonists in Returning Home, and the way in which Stiller cultivated an intergenerational space to share vulnerability, resilience and courage. “The stories of residential school survivors and the effects of colonialism were seamlessly woven with the story of the salmon struggling to return to the land in a poetic and visually stunning way. This timely film reminds us of the generational trauma caused by Canadian colonization on both the people and the land, while also giving us an intimate portrait into those fighting for justice. We can all learn and be inspired by this film.”
Stiller, who currently resides in Toronto but works in both Ontario and his home province of B.C., remains shocked by the outstanding support for the film, which profiled Orange Shirt Society founder Phyllis Jack-Webstad and her family. “Returning Home is my first feature length film and was very much a labour of love. When we found out we were selected for all three festivals, that was exciting enough news on its own. But to learn that we won best Canadian documentary at each was incredibly humbling. It’s hard to imagine a better outcome for this film,” said Stiller. “My hope for this documentary is that it can amplify and extend the sacred work that Phyllis does — and continues to do — all across this country.”
For nearly a century, Canadian Geographic has been dedicated to making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world, primarily through its award-winning magazine. Canadian Geographic Films is leading a digital transformation to support a greater understanding of Canada’s geography and has a number of other projects currently in development, with documentaries and television series slated for release in 2022. The production of Returning Home was made possible in partnership with the Government of Canada.
SOURCE: Royal Canadian Geographical Society