Kanesatake filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s first-ever French dramatic mini-series premiered on Tuesday night (September 13) on Radio-Canada.
Pour toi Flora centres around two Anishinaabe residential school survivors trying to come to terms with their painful past. “I’m relieved now that it’s out in the world. I don’t feel the weight on my shoulders as much anymore,” said Bonspille Boileau.
“Now that it’s out in the world, I feel like I’ve been carrying this creative baby in my stomach for like, four or five years now,” she added with a chuckle.
The mini-series follows the survivors’ journey from the heartbreaking moment they were separated from their parents by the Oblates in the 1960s through a lifetime of trauma and repercussions as they try to heal and move forward with their lives.
The six-episode drama is the biggest French language project Bonspille Boileau and her team have undertaken.
She recounted that she started writing the story in 2017 and said that the project as a whole had been quite lengthy.
“It all came from my own family because my grandfather went to Shingwauk Residential School with his sisters. It’s something that I’ve always carried in my heart and in the pit of my stomach. So, I knew I wanted to write something about this,” said the filmmaker.
She explained that prior to the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops, BC, the subject of residential schools was not talked about in French Quebecois society."
“I would meet people, and they would casually say in French, ‘We didn’t have that here in Quebec.’ I’ve met so many survivors on the French side, and that’s so insulting to them and what they’ve been through.
“This is for mainly a non-Indigenous audience, and I wanted it to be two things. I wanted to be a piece of healing for survivors. It’s made for survivors, but it’s made to be presented to non-Indigenous,” said Bonspille Boileau.
For the large-scale production, the filmmaker worked with a group of survivors from a specific school in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. She said that it took them a few years to develop the story.
“It was quite a long process because obviously, even if at first they felt like they were ready to share, it’s still really hard for them to read the scripts and to comment and to share their story. It’s like opening wounds,” she said.
“They kept saying, ‘It feels good to talk about it; it feels good to finally tell our stories.’ It was hard but such a beautiful process.”
She said that there were challenges throughout the making of the series, including the very fast pace of television production and, of course, the sensitive nature of some of the scenes.
Bonspille Boileau credits the elders that were on hand for their strength and patience and explained that they would hold ceremonies for the really difficult scenes.
“We’re just super, super thankful that the series has an audience already. It premiered on TV in May,” said Bonspille Boileau, referring to its appearance on the Ici Tou.TV streaming service.
“We were told that it was doing really well. It was one of the most streamed shows of the spring.”
The series will also premiere on APTN in November. The filmmaker said that although she cherished her experience on Pour toi Flora she was ready to move on to possibly a smaller, deeper, more organic project for now.
She said that she was extremely thankful for the actors and extras and especially the child actors for being so patient because the days were really long and hard.
“The biggest thing for me with this project was spending so much time with two elders specifically that were on set the entire time, Normand Kistabish and Emily Mowatt. They became almost like my own grandparents. I love them so much. I talk to them every single week,” said Bonspille Boileau.
“My life partner (Jason Brennan) is my producing partner. He’s like the backbone of all of this. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without him.”
Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door