New documentary calls Acadians home

MONCTON, NEW BRUNSWICK: A new documentary showing the modern face of the Acadian Deportation is piling up awards and accolades.

The documentary film Belle-Île in Acadie by filmmaker Phil Comeau is making the rounds at film festivals around the world.

The film follows a group of Acadian descendants from Belle-Île-en-Mer, France, on a pilgrimage to the Maritimes during the World Acadian Congress in 2019. It follows the group as they participate at the Acadian diaspora reunion and walk on the farmlands of their ancestors who were deported in 1755.

According to a press release from Cine-Baie Productions, the film is about exile; a feeling of belonging and leads the viewer to question the importance of collective memory in preserving its culture.

One portion of the documentary includes a visit to Grand Pre.

“I get those emotions myself when I go there. I do pilgrimages there often and I still get the emotions. It’s something that’s in our DNA. It’s there for life, I think. We have this sort of feeling when we’re there,” he said. “It’s also a strange feeling when you walk on those lands.”

For Comeau, the deportation is not just about sadness over loss, but sometimes, anger. In the case of the Acadians in France, anger is not a predominant feeling since they were quite prosperous.

“I meet people who are angry, I am sometimes myself,” he noted. “Obviously in Nova Scotia, it’s very difficult to drive through the Valley and see all that beautiful land and think that it used to be ours.”

Transcending the perspectives of Acadians in Canada, Comeau said he wanted to document a group from France travelling to the Maritimes.

Just before filming, he toured many communities, including Chéticamp and Fortress Louisbourg.

“The week before the World Acadian Congress, we toured the entire province of Nova Scotia. We even went to Isle Madame,” Comeau said.

Comeau said the educational side of the film is “camouflaged” in the dramatic story telling about a time in history that extended to 1762.

“The deportation killed half of the Acadians, which is really, really bad. You could almost say it’s the equivalent to a genocide,” he noted. “For all those years, people were being deported. And after that, even for 30-some years, they migrated all over the world trying to find family members.”

Beyond those who call Acadie home, the film’s universal themes have struck a chord with audiences around the globe, Comeau noted.

“Films are also entertainment, so you have to find emotion. We all watch TV if there’s emotion, so you have to do the same thing in a documentary film; find emotion,” Comeau told The Reporter. “Those are all themes that attract people because everybody can relate to that.”

As an Acadian, Comeau said it was important to tell this story and have people reflect upon what happened many years ago, as well as what’s going on currently.

“There’s like 70 million refugees in the world right now, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “Humanity doesn’t seem to learn after all their errors in the past, they’re still doing it, still putting minorities, or groups, or different religions, or whatever, out of the countries, or pushing them out, deporting them, or killing them. It’s sort of a reflection of something that went on in North America that should have never happened, and it’s still going on around the world.”

The film won its 100th award, the Audience Award at the 27th Rendez-Vous French Film Festival in Vancouver.

“Recognized as the most awarded Canadian documentary, the film is also possibly the most awarded documentary world-wide,” Comeau said in a press release.

Launched at the FICFA film festival in Moncton followed by the RVQC festival in Montreal, the film has been selected at more than 130 festivals in some 50 countries on five continents. This film award in Vancouver is the seventh in Canada. The other recognitions include 28 awards received in the United States, 23 in nine European countries, 39 in 10 Asian countries, two in South America, and one award in Australia.

Comeau, who is from Saulnierville, divides his time between Moncton and Montreal.

“I am very happy for the positive exposure this film gives to Acadians on the international festival circuit and I thank the generous characters who participated, the dedicated crew and the financial contributors to the film,” he said in the release.

The film was financed by public crowd funding and a few sponsors, the release noted, adding it has been officially selected at other upcoming festivals in England, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Russia, Venezuela, and the Philippines.