All too ordinary

Danielle Devereaux finds similarities between the Labrador film My People’s Journey and the Argentinian An Ordinary Family.Two documentaries: An Ordinary Family, by Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten, and My People’s Journey from Innu filmmaker Christine Poker.   

One international film, one local film. Drastically different sets of circumstances, but with much in common.    

The original goal of the Nickel Independent Film and Video Festival was to provide a venue for local filmmakers to showcase their work, and although there is every reason to be proud of our homegrown filmmaking talent, there is also good reason to welcome works from other places.     

Set in Argentina and Spain, An Ordinary Family tells the story of an upper middle class family—mom, dad, three kids—who lose everything in the 2001 collapse of Argentina’s economy. Early home videos of a life of luxury are a stark contrast to their present circumstances. With no money to pay the mortgage, their house may be auctioned off and Maria, frustrated and tired, barters personal items for food at the market. Eventually the family decides to emigrate to Spain, hoping for a fresh start and a brighter future. The youngest son’s raw reactions to the move, bawling when he discovers the family dog won’t be coming, crying that he doesn’t want to leave at the airport, are heart-breaking.   

In My People’s Journey, Poker brings us the stories of a somewhat larger family. A documentary about the many moves of the Innu of Northern Labrador, Poker’s focus is not only the Innu people’s recent physical move from Davis Inlet to Natuashish and their hopes for a better future in their new home, but also their move, in a very short period of time, from “the world of animal spirits to the world of video games.” Poker’s own story weaves in and out through her many interviews with people in the community. The beautiful, life-worn faces of the women elders, many of whom continue to work at their stitching and sewing as they share memories and ask questions – “I wonder who started it? Who made the first homebrew?” – hint at the complex history this film attempts to convey.    

Both films illustrate the effects of external circumstance—economic collapse, government-imposed relocation—on people’s everyday lives. Both are stories about struggles to regain a sense of dignity and identity, the difficulties and contradictions of living with hope and despair.    

In each documentary the ‘ordinary’ people interviewed are open and candid. There is always something fascinating and beautiful about watching real people onscreen, something extraordinary about documentaries that cannot leave their audience with “happy endings” but can still leave us with a sense of joy.    

As Christine Poker says at the close of My People’s Journey, “Some days, when bad things happen, it’s very hard for everyone, but there are good days too, and on those days there is hope.” 

An Ordinary Family Screens as part of Thursday night’s lineup, 7:00 pm July 20. My People’s Journey screens as part of Saturday night’s lineup, 7:00 pm July 22. Both screenings are at the LSPU Hall. Check out the festival’s schedule at www.nickelfestival.com or turn to page 5 & 6 for our listings.