SJIFF: Part one
NL flicks – Becoming Labrador
The St John’s International Women’s Film and Video Festival (October 16-20) is 30 years old, and now the second longest-running women’s film festival in the world (Rocky Mountain’s, in Colorado Springs, beats it by one year). The 2019 lineup includes morning and afternoon shorts, afternoon, evening, and late features, panel discussions, and social events like coffee breaks and lunches. Screenings and hobnobbing take place at the LSPU Hall, The Rooms, and Scotiabank Theatre.
Cinema from NL-based filmmakers includes Luben and Elena (written and directed by Ellie Yononva), Almost Home (directed by Susan Cahill and Matt Roger, and written by Cahill), Surrounded by Water (written and directed by Rhonda Buckley), Body and Bones (written and directed by Melanie Oates), and Becoming Labrador (directed by Rohan Fernando, Tamara Segura, and Justin Sims).
Becoming Labrador is a documentary about the growing Filipino community in Labrador. Featuring Epitacia Bruce, and the Verzosa, Hunter, and Villanueva families, the hour-plus long film intercuts interviews with animated sequences and incredible location shots. NQ spoke with Segura about the film.
Where did the idea of Becoming Labrador come from? The idea for this film came from our Producer Annette Clarke, after she heard on the radio about the Filipino community in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. At the time, she became interested in telling stories of parents and children living away from each other, so she brought Michael Crummey on board to do some research about this subject. Michael travelled to Labrador and developed the first drafts of the script. Later on the other two directors and myself got invited to participate in the project.
How did you find your interview subjects? Some of our characters were previously approached by Michael during the research phase. By the time we got into production, some of them [had] either moved away or their situation had changed. That’s how we decided to spend more time in the community and contact people who would be interested in participating in the film. We got to know many different families that shared their stories with us, and eventually had to decide, in the editing room, which of them were more representative of the themes we wanted to portray.
Speaking of which, the film makes such strong statements about humanity and family – were you expecting that from the outset, or did it just emerge as the process went along? From the beginning we were focused in touching universal subjects such as loss, love, and family. Even from Michael’s first drafts, our intention was to approach this story from a universal and poetic perspective rather than a purely intellectual one. And it became clear very early that faith and church plays a huge role in the community.
What about the animated sequences – when did that element come into play? The idea for animation came in very early on as well. We wanted to find creative ways to express the poetry in Michael’s writing. We wanted this film to feel different from what people would expect. Our animator, Fred Casia, who is of Filipino origin, came up with a wonderful style to illustrate emotions that aren’t easily expressed in live action. We loved his work right away.
What about having (the GG- and Giller-nominated) Michael Crummey as a writer – how do you “write” a documentary? In the earliest stages of the project, Michael wrote three short scripts, based on interviews he had done previously. As we got more into shooting, we realized the story would be better told as one unified piece, rather than a triptych. But Michael’s scripts provided the inspiration for so much. And though some the stories and characters changed over the years, we always felt a real connection to what Michael had written originally.
Becoming Labrador will be shown October 19 at the LSPU Hall. For the complete SJIWF&VF schedule and more info please visit https://www.womensfilmfestival.com
All photos credited to NFB