By Matt Hume, September 28 2017 —
The Calgary International Film Festival is in full swing. Many screenings remain, including films from Western Canada. A perfect example is Birth of a Family, a documentary directed by University of Calgary PhD Tasha Hubbard, focusing on the union of four long-lost siblings.
“The film is about a family of four siblings from Fond du Lac, Saskatchewan who are Dene and who were all taken away from their mother in the ‘60s,” Hubbard says. “They were fostered and adopted into separate homes and not supported to connect with each other. The oldest, from the time she was a young woman until two years ago, searched for her siblings and finally found the last one in 2014.”
The film centres around the eldest sibling Betty Anne’s idea for the four of them to live together in a cabin in Banff.
Hubbard says the documentary covers a wide range of emotions, considering all the factors present in their lives and reunion.
“There’s obviously a lot of joy. This union is happening and they’re excited, but they’re also coming to terms with the loss and the depth of that loss,” she says. “They have no shared memories and they realize they’re in their 50s and don’t know how much time they have left to be together. [The emotions] really move back and forth.”
According to Hubbard, another major factor is the siblings’ varying exposure to their own family’s past and culture.
“[Betty Anne] is a reporter and has covered a lot of Indigenous stories over the years, but the other three are not as familiar,” she says. “Part of the film is Betty Anne sharing their late mother with them, but also her experience in residential school and policies that Canada has had for Indigenous people that have done a lot of harm. They come to terms with the fact that they are the ones who are losing from that harm.”
Despite very personal lessons of family history, Birth of a Family shows the joyful possibilities that come with reuniting a family.
“They go on this wonderful trip together up to the Columbia Icefields and they decide since they didn’t get to celebrate birthday parties that they’re going to have a birthday party for themselves,” she says. “It really moves in and out of a lot of emotion and really we’re just watching them experience their week together.”
Hubbard explained the long history in North America of using Indigenous peoples as objects of the audience’s gaze, instead of allowing Indigenous communities to write, create and direct films themselves. She is excited to be a part of a growing community of Indigenous filmmakers.
“[There’s] a generation who’s making work and coming from the community. That’s exciting and I’m really excited to be a part of that,” Hubbard says. “As a little girl, this is something that I would have never imagined for myself. Now that I’m making films about my history, my community and my territory, it’s a real honour. It’s a real privilege and I feel really lucky.”
Hubbard completed her PhD at the U of C in a relevant area of study, which she says has aided her filmmaking career. Her main area of study was Indigenous literatures and a secondary focus on the history of the novel.
“I feel like this is what I’m living now — the research I do in my academic life — bringing that onto the screen and telling really good stories right because that’s how people connect to things,” she says.
She also kept a connection to the National Film Board in Edmonton, which was instrumental in making the film possible.
“[The NFB] sent me up to a ‘future of the story’ workshop, which not only supported my filmmaking, but it informed my academic work as well,” Hubbard says. “When the story in Birth of a Family came along, I already had a good relationship with them and they were very receptive to the story.”
Birth of a Family screens on Friday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 1 at 11:30 a.m. at Cineplex Eau Claire. Betty Anne and Rose, two of the siblings in the film, will be present for the Friday screening. Tickets are available online at the Calgary Film website.