The Acadian documentary Belle-Île in Acadie by Moncton filmmaker Phil Comeau won its 100th award over the weekend at Vancouver's French-language film festival.
Like the Acadian people it features, the film that premiered at Moncton's Festival International du Cinema Francophone en Acadie in 2019, has since travelled all over the world, said Comeau, who splits his time between Moncton and Montreal.
Separated from Acadie for over 250 years, Comeau said it was “mind-blowing” how connected Acadians from all over the world felt connected to the place their families had been deported from generations earlier.
Making the film, Comeau said he “learned Acadian culture is stronger than I imagined.”
The film focuses on Acadians, in particular those from Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island of the coast of Brittany in France, who travelled to the Maritimes for the 2019 Congres Mondiale, hosted that year by Prince Edward Island and southeastern New Brunswick.
Comeau said while he has attended all of the Acadian congresses, when he heard about the Belle-Île group, he saw the potential for a film.
It was a moving experience, and a hopeful one, making the documentary, he said..
In one scene, the group received an apology from a woman who is a descendant of Loyalists who took over an Acadian farm in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia. In other scenes, Acadians, gathered en masse, are seen celebrating their culture in the streets.
“People see hope in the film,” Comeau said, noting it's a story that conveys Acadian resilience and pride.
Louise Imbeault, president of Société Nationale de l’Acadie, the organization which oversees the World Acadian Congress and a contributor to the film’s financing, said, “sometimes you talk about feel-good movies - this could be a feel-good doc.
“I think people want to hear stories where there are things that last in an ever-changing world,” she said, calling it a story of people from one side of the Atlantic still having a lasting connection with people on the other.
The documentary also exposes the different experiences of various groups of Acadians. The ancestors of the group visiting from Belle-Île were deported from Acadie and held in England as political prisoners before being released and returned to France eight years later, said Comeau. This is a different history from those who were able to stay hidden in the region during the deportation or settle in different areas of New Brunswick or down the eastern United States. “It’s a different history, a different story,” he said.
The experience of displacement is one many groups of people can relate to, Comeau said, noting that there are millions of refugees displaced from other parts of the world at this moment in time, and still other groups who have ancestors with similar experiences.
Comeau surmises that may be why the film has done so well on the festival circuit, and is still being requested for screenings.
While the film has earned awards and critical praise, significant achievements in his career as a filmmaker, Comeau says he's most touched when the film is screened and well-received in areas where Acadians have settled.
Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal