In the stark Labrador interior, a growing number of Filipino workers have recently landed in the small regional hub of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, travelling halfway around the world for jobs they hope will offer their families new opportunities and a better life. Becoming Labrador follows a handful of those women and men as they make a place for themselves in Labrador’s profoundly foreign climate and culture, and deal with the unexpected costs of living far from parents, partners and children.
Combining documentary footage with interpretive animation, and bringing together the vision of three of Canada’s best young directors, Becoming Labrador is a remarkable feat of collaborative authorship. It offers an intimate account of the radical mobility and displacement of the modern world, and of how tenaciously people hold to their roots in the midst of fundamental change. Celebrating the ties that motivate and sustain the Filipino workers and their families, it also reveals a subtler love affair, as people from a tropical country find themselves falling for the North.
A growing number of Filipino workers are leaving home and travelling halfway around the world to work in the stark Labrador interior. Their goal is to offer their families new opportunities and a better life, although at first, they must leave their loved ones behind.
Becoming Labrador follows the stories of several of these men and women as they try to adapt to a profoundly foreign climate and culture, while learning to live far from their families. It’s a unique film that combines documentary and animation to tell powerful stories.
The film was directed by three of Canada’s sharpest talents: Justin Simms, Rohan Fernando, and Tamara Segura. It’s a remarkable feat of collaborative authorship. We sat down with the three filmmakers to talk about the project and the process of working together.
What was it like co-directing this project?
Justin Simms: I have enjoyed the fact that three of us are on this film. When you make a film, being the director is very lonely. So, I’ve really been grateful for the fact that we’ve all been in this together. It’s been nice that we can share the workload and the pressure. Frankly, it just hasn’t been as lonely as it is when you’re the only filmmaker.
Rohan Fernando: Other people sharing that burden. That was great.
Tamara Segura: Less pressure, more collaboration, and more skills really brings a lot of confidence to the process. And I’m very glad to be working with people who are 10 years ahead of me, because I’ve learned so much.
How do you think the fact that you each came into this with three different stories affected the process? Would it have been different if you’d all come together first, then decided on a story together?
Rohan: Starting with three separate storylines was helpful. We each felt authorship from the beginning. It wasn’t until after we worked together for at least a year and a half and developed our ideas that we thought of bringing them together.
Tamara: Part of me felt that this would be one film from the beginning. I never regarded it as my own film. I always realized that it was a part of a bigger thing. I always felt this would be one single story at the end.
What other challenges did you discover while making this film?
Rohan: One of the biggest challenges is gaining intimacy and access. These are very busy people; they have two or three jobs. They’re juggling that with family. The demands on their life are great, so being sensitive to them and still trying to make a film is a challenge, was a challenge. Especially since we jump in for a week and then we’re gone and then we come in for another week, and then we’re gone… It’s hard to just enter their lives, find the intimacy, film it, and pop out again.
Can you talk a little bit about one of your subjects, Rey?
Justin: Rey was recommended to us by another potential subject, Nathan. He said Rey works at the Coffee Shop in the airport and has been waiting for his family the most amount of time of anybody who has come here from the Philippines.
Rohan: We both met Rey and I remember thinking he was quite timid. I just didn’t know if he would be able to articulate the things that we needed him to articulate, and we had quite a few discussions about that. But we had been away from our kids for a week and we were meeting a man who hadn’t seen his kids for four years, so we were right there with him from the start. And when we started talking to him, he just kind of said, “I want to show you something,” and he took us to this room in his house. He opened a locked room that was full of toys. That was the moment that I think we both kind of got goosebumps and we knew this was kind of special.
With documentary, when things work there’s a kind of karma to it. You can’t take full responsibility for the final film because things will happen that are totally out of your control. Rey had been waiting four years for his visa to be able to bring his family over. And the first day that we filmed with him, he got an e-mail as we were walking out the door. And he called me back and said, “What do you think this says?” I looked at it, ran out the door, and called Justin and Mark to come back and keep filming. At that moment he had received the e-mail that he had been waiting four years for. You can’t control that stuff.
Tamara, this was your first real documentary experience. Do you want to talk about that at all?
Tamara: Documentary was one of my biggest fears. I always prefer to work with drama or fiction because I can control the situation, and I’m a very controlling person. I was stressed at first, but as time went by and the story became more defined, I just relaxed and trusted the team and our skills. It’s been very rewarding. An amazing experience.
Why is this film important and what do you hope people will take away from it?
Tamara: I hope it will create empathy, that’s really all I want. Anytime you see someone with an accent you will immediately have empathy for these people because you know their struggles and their stories and how similar we are, how incredibly similar people are everywhere.
Justin: My hope is that anybody who watches this film will be impressed, as I was, with the strength of character that these people have. They have had real struggles. Leaving their home, their families, coming here to a very challenging environment. Yet they are dedicated to each other and they are dedicated to the greater good. Often, they put themselves last. And in this current world, those are qualities that, I think we can all agree, there should be more of.
Rohan: For me, as a parent, seeing these people and what they’ve done for their families… Their devotion to their children, and their devotion to creating a better life. Aside from gaining fresh perspective on the benefits I’ve enjoyed, it also clarified for me what’s important and how to bring that back into my life.
What makes this film different?
Justin: What I found fascinating with this film was the prospect of working with animation. It was my first time. Michael Crummey writes in images and when I read his stuff it kind of lights the mind on fire in terms of what you’re seeing. We were able to explore that.
And working with two other filmmakers, with everything coming together… we hoped to create a moody, vibe-y, kind of poetic film that, while still a documentary, comes in a different kind of package. It’s a unique film in that sense.
Everybody added their own particular chili to the sauce and we all kind of handed off to each other at certain points, the way a group of musicians might. Sometimes we know the song that we’re going to play and other times it’s completely improvised; somebody finds a beat, or a little riff and we all follow suit. I’m quite confident that it is a better film than it would have been if just one of us had made it.
The Hunter Family
The Verzosa Family
The Villanueva Family
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Hyun Jin Park
Marilyn Kukai Hunter
Francis La Haye
ASSISTANT SOUND EDITOR
MUSIC PRODUCED AND PERFORMED BY
Asif & Shehab Illyas
at The SHIRE Film Scoring, Halifax, Canada
Filipino Kulintang gongs, Rhodes, Orchestration, guitars and keyboards – Asif Illyas
Programming, additional percussion – Shehab Illyas
Viola – Kirsty Money
Throat Singers – Echo Henoche, Althaya Solomon
“Wanted Dead or Alive Since ’75”
Written by Asif Illyas
Performed by The SHIRE & Ian Sherwood
© 2017Asifmusic (SOCAN)
“Love Lifted Me”
Written by James Rowe (1912, public domain)
Performed by Edeta Verzosa and the Northern Cross Community Church Worship Team
Bird’s Eye Inc.
Marilyn Kukai Hunter
Ofelia Caranoo Gonzales
Nathan and Maricel Macalagay
April Rose Manalang-Ferraren
Erma Reinoso Nardon
Irene & Wayne Thornhill and family
Baby Tinay de la Cruz
Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay
Filipino Community of Goose Bay
Jacques Bertrand Simard
Leslie Anne Poyntz
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENGLISH PROGRAM
Michelle van Beusekom
© 2018 The National Film Board of Canada