SS: You travelled outside of Canada from a very young age. I’d like to know how this has influenced your perception of your community, your identity.
CM: Yes. Well, I was immersed in French culture from a young age because I attended a French lycée. So already, the French side took up a lot of room. For example, in my mother’s family, which is largely English-speaking, right from the start I felt a greater affinity with something that was more Francophone than Anglophone. My mother hadn’t taught us any English when we were kids, so maybe that resulted in tensions at that level. Also, growing up in Quebec, given that I spent a lot of time in Europe, my sense of belonging was tinged with the knowledge that I wasn’t entirely Québécoise either. There was this very European side and then the whole idea of the Indigenous community as well. When you put it all together, it pits these various communities against each other and makes for affinities that I find fascinating. I love that complexity.
SS: I saw a lot of overlap between your experimental film Gephyrophobia and Jacquelyn Hébert’s documentary Francophone-hybride, which addresses identity, bilingualism and linguistic duality. One subject in Hébert’s film is asked, “In what language do you dream?” As a bilingual person, I’ve often put the question to myself, as if it would reveal my real identity or my authenticity. But in fact, I dream in many languages, even those I don’t know. So here’s a question that’s maybe a little tongue-in-cheek: what language do you like to dream in?
CM: [laughs] I have no idea! I think my own dreams are dialogue-free. I dream purely in images, and there’s maybe music. A little like in my films, which also feature relatively little dialogue. I can’t say.
But Jacquelyn Hébert’s film is very interesting because I know Saint-Boniface and I also lived in Winnipeg. It’s so interesting to me that there’s a river separating the French and English districts. A physical separation in the form of a body of water dividing the two language groups, not unlike the situation in Hull/Ottawa. I called my film Gephyrophobia, which means “fear of crossing bridges.” I could feel it in the Outaouais where I grew up. I grew up in Aylmer but every day I crossed the bridge to go to school in Ottawa. It was often the Francophones who were crossing over to go and work in Ottawa. Though maybe things have since changed, because Hull is becoming really cool! [laughs] But I found you could only rarely bring an Ontarian to the other side, you know? It’s just a bridge and it takes just five minutes to cross. Not very far, but there’s this physical barrier that becomes a real obstacle.
When I selected my films, I felt it important to include a Francophone work from outside of Quebec. It’s maybe more of a traditional documentary but I feel — at least in terms of my selection — that it’s the most directly aligned with my chosen theme. The question really boils down to “trying to define an identity” and that’s no easy thing.
These are questions that I, as an Indigenous woman, am asked quite often. I’m often put into these boxes and asked, “So, just what is the Aboriginal identity?” and it can be so many things. For me, Jacquelyn’s film does this, tries to define it, only to conclude that it’s basically indefinable. It’s something that can only be experienced and expressed. For this reason, I feel the film is a key work in Canada’s French-language cinema.
SS: Absolutely, we often discuss this. But please go on.
CM: I find it to be an interesting connection when we speak of the French language and then of this “language oppression,” like what happened in Manitoba as well as in Acadia, Ontario and the rest of la Francophonie. This idea of “oppression” is interesting since it very much relates to the Indigenous experience — the idea of struggling to keep your own identity. It’s this identity that contributes to feelings of belonging, of being part of a culture, a reality that you can call your own.
These are questions that I, as an Indigenous woman, am asked quite often. I’m often put into these boxes and asked, “So, just what is the Aboriginal identity?” and it can be so many things.