When Carleton University instructor Armand Ruffo went to San Francisco to screen his debut film, A Windigo Tale, at the American Indian Film Festival last month, he had no idea he’d be returning with an armload of awards.

The film, adapted from a play by Ruffo about the intergenerational impact of residential schools, won awards for Best Actress (Andrea Menard) and Best Supporting Actress (Jani Lauzon).

“I watched some of the other films, and they all seemed very good, so it came as quite a surprise,” he said.

The surprise was all greater because it looked at one time like his troubled film would never be made.

Financial troubles shut the production down in 2006. Ruffo managed to secure more funding, but still struggled with bad luck.

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” he said. “We had a ’58 Mercury and it broke down after the second day. For a lot of the scenes we ended up towing it around.”

Still, Ruffo said, it’s all been worth it. “It’s the first film that’s dealing with (residential schools) from an aboriginal point of view and it’s been really well received with the aboriginal community across the country so far.”

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