WILLIAM tells the story of a nine-year-old torn from his family in 1960 and placed by force in one of 139 Indian residential schools that existed in Canada over a period of a hundred years, from 1870 to 1997. These residential schools had a single purpose: to assimilate First Nations, Inuit and Metis into Canada’s colonial society.
Each episode highlights one typical scene in the children’s journey through the system, from their life on the land to their abduction by government agents, their arrival at the school, their experience in the dormitory, the classroom, and their return home.
Today, most Canadians have at least heard one moving story or seen one touching image related to residential schools. Yet this part of our collective history is barely addressed in school curriculum, and according to a 2021 survey (1), many people admit to knowing very little about Indian residential schools, except for what they read or hear in the media. In a world saturated with information, in a world where it seems like every day there is a new calamity, it is difficult to get out of oneself to feel the empathy that is required when one encounters real suffering. WILLIAM wants to take on the challenge of creating empathy, by allowing everyone to experience this historic reality in the first person.
This series renders reality in its most intimate form by means of a fictional work grounded in historical fact. In its development, WILLIAM benefited from the same rigor that goes into making any truthful documentary. Much research went into developing and designing the six episodes.
The scenarios are based on the testimonies of residential school survivors. Scenes were selected to capture the archetypal moments that every child who went through the residential school system had to live out. The experience of WILLIAM and his peers is the experience of thousands. By living it, we bear witnesses to a tragedy that was repeated each time the government abducted a child from their family or their community.
This project is part of a movement trying to raise awareness and repair the harm done to Canada’s Indigenous communities. It is doing this by putting the power of cinema and virtual reality in the service of education and awareness.
By embodying a character and living their story, the user actively participates in a movement that amplifies empathy and the desire to understand the experience of others.
WILLIAM was firstly conceived for a Canadian anglophone and francophone audience. But since Canada’s colonial legacy is just one instance of the global issue of colonization, the series is part of a worldwide effort to recognize the experience of Indigenous peoples around the world. It is therefore intended for the widest possible audience.
Since the content is based on the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, WILLIAM has an important educational component. It is a powerful pedagogical tool that we invite teachers to use when they talk about the residential school system in the classroom.
This episode presents the average daily life of an Indigenous family in the late 1950s. We will see William’s parents, grandparents and younger sister.
This experience simulates the painful moment when children are forcefully removed from their families by government representatives. The user will witness the discussion between the Indian agent and William’s parents and the family’s efforts to protect young William.
Members of the clergy put the new students through their harsh arrival routine. William will undergo a medical examination as well as have his hair cut and his identity changed to a number.
The boys are grouped in a large dorm room, getting ready for bed. It is time for prayer. While trying to sleep William hears whispering; his neighbor is crying ... a priest comes to get him.
The children are in the classroom listening to the nun give a lesson. The children are confused; they don’t understand the language and are trying their best to concentrate and avoid being noticed.
William returns home to his family after years away at Residential school. He tries to reconnect with his mother and father with whom he can no longer communicate.