Spirit of the Bluebird animation soars

Animated film honours murdered woman 12 years later


Directed by Xtine Cook

Sunday September 25

Globe Cinema

It has taken nearly 12 years for artist Xtine Cook to see Spirit of the Bluebird a mural and animated film depicting a southern Alberta river valley come to fruition all in the name of honouring the memory of a murdered Blood woman. In 1999 Gloria Black Plume was found dead in a Ramsay alleyway and what followed was a draining and drawn out court process to convict her two murderers and find closure in the case. Though the two men were eventually set free Cook — who now lives in the house Black Plume was murdered behind — was working on her own bit of closure.

“Something grabbed hold of me” says Cook. “I stood in front of the National (Hotel) for four nights in a row just singing. On the fourth day I was driving my truck up the alley and at this spot my truck started blaring The Doors’ song ‘Gloria.’ The hair on my body stood on end and I thought ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on’ but I vowed I would honour her with the mural and not forget about her.”

But Cook didn’t want to go ahead with the mural until she had the blessing from Black Plume’s family. Over the next 10 years Cook attempted to make contact with the family over and over again gradually building new contacts in the hopes of reaching them. “The family was so hurt and injured by the court process that they didn’t want to open up that wound again” says Cook. “That was the main hurdle. The family didn’t respond to anything. Any time I came into the alleyway I would think ‘OK I’ll try again.’”

After years of trying a contact was able to connect Cook with the family who gave her their approval for the mural. Without hesitation Cook sought out an artist to collaborate on the project. She contacted the Quickdraw Animation Society and they pointed her in the direction of Jesse Gouchey an artist who recently completed their Aboriginal Youth Animation Project.

As Gouchey and his animation skills entered the picture the mural moved beyond the alleyway. He spent the summer painting the mural which spans from Cook’s backyard fence to her garage and snapping 1800 photos to create the animation. Once the mural was finished the two artists hosted an unveiling and invited Black Plume’s family. Seven of the family members were recorded talking about Black Plume which was used as a script for the animation and her nephew sang and played a drum for use as the soundtrack.

“The unveiling was powerful” says Cook. “A lot of those people had not been here since she had died so for them to be here in this place where she had passed away had been really powerful and it was moving for them.” Black Plume’s eldest daughter Kaily Bird says she is honoured by the dedication and effort Cook and Gouchey have put into the mural and animation.

“I’m happy that it’s being recognized” says Bird. “Not only for what happened to my mother but for all of the aboriginal murdered and missing women so they’re not all forgotten.”

Spirit of the Bluebird has been accepted to more than 20 film festivals and has recently returned from the Toronto International Film Festival. It will be appearing at the Calgary International Film Festival as part of the Alberta Spirit Competition.

“I don’t want it to die after the festivals” says Cook. “I’m an artist so you believe art can change the world. I don’t know how it will change the world. I just hope that people remember her. People have memories of her being a happy and loving person so for her life to end like that is so wrong.”