‘Lost Sparrows’ is what the Crow Indians call children that are taken from them by the White Man.
Four Crow children were taken from their parent and given to a White family to raise. The Billing family already had six children, giving them a total of ten children. Mom stayed home with the kids and dad worked in real estate. Times were good, Dad made money, enough money to move into a Victorian Castle in Little Falls, New York. From the outside the family looked a bit odd (five of the children were dark and the others were blond), but they looked happy.
One day the two oldest of the Crow children, Bobby (13) and Tyler (11), ran away. The next day they are hit by a train and killed. This documentary tells what happened before and what came after.
Chris Billing tells the story of his brothers and sisters, biological and adopted, as he is driving a U-Haul from New York to Montana. The truck carries the two small caskets that hold the bodies of his two fallen brothers. The children had been disinterred and were to be buried in the cemetery where their ancestors are buried.
After 30 years Chris wants to know what really went on in 1978, the year his brothers were killed. Through a series of interviews and narration by Chris himself, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Before the death of the children:
- Lana reveals that she doesn’t want to be alone with their dad. She asks her two brothers not to leave her alone with Mr. Billing.
- Mrs. Billing has suspicions about her husband.
- Lana shows signs of depression and fear.
- Bobbie and Tyler run away.
After the boys run away:
- The boys leave with Jenelle in hot pursuit. She is turned back to go home.
- The family doesn’t address the fact that the children are missing, assuming they will come home when they are ‘hungry’.
- The next day the children are struck by a train and killed.
Interviews are done with Mom, Dad, Janelle and surprisingly enough, Lana.
These interviews are hard to watch for the most part. Mrs. Billing admits that her husband had other women and that there was an issue involving Lana. When Mr. Billing was originally interviewed he insists Lana’s accusations are lies. Lana’s had returned to the Crow people and is reportedly an alcoholic. She obviously had a problem, however her interview told it like it was and I trusted what she said and believed it to be true.
In the end Mr. and Mrs. Billing are reunited with Chris, Lana and Janelle. The healing started with Mr. Billing admitting for the most part that he had been inappropriate with Lana. Mrs. Billing had a huge pray session that almost seemed self serving. However, it was certainly better to pray for healing than just ignoring Lana and her issues.
The film does show the two brothers, buried at last, in their final resting place in Montana.
As hard as this film was for me to watch, I was glad I did watch. ‘Lost Sparrows’ gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s well made with important issues addressed. The best part is that after 30 years Chris Billing had a big of closure. He knew what had happened to his brothers and sisters that lead to a tragedy on a railroad track in upper state New York.
‘Lost Sparrow’ was first presented as an episode of ‘Independent Lens on PBS’. It is available on DVD on the ‘Lost Sparrow’ site and is worth purchasing for your collection.
‘Lost Sparrow’ on Facebook.
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