After she said that, there was a long pause. I said, “Wow, that’s really crazy. Did you know that’s where my family was sent, and where my father was born?” From that moment, I think we were meant to come together and work on it. I think [there are] sort of greater forces at work in the way that this has come together and been made.
Emily Kassie: Julian and I, we worked our first reporting jobs together, almost a decade ago. Julian sat at the desk next to me when he was coming in, and we became fast friends. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to work together on something, but the timing hadn’t been quite right. When I had heard about the unmarked graves and the horrors that my own country perpetrated, I knew that I had to do this.
I’m an investigative reporter and filmmaker who has covered atrocities around the world—genocide and human rights abuses in Afghanistan and Syria and Rwanda and Turkey—[but] I’d never done anything about my own country, Canada. I knew that the best person I could possibly do it with is Julian, who’s an incredible storyteller. He’s an incredible writer. He’s an important voice; he knows and understands history. I knew that those skill sets would really complement each other. It’s been the journey of a lifetime ever since.
Julian, you and your family are at the center of the film’s story. Was the decision to make it so deeply personal something that happened organically? Were you a bit wary going in?
JBN: That’s a great question. Some of my initial hesitation on working on the documentary was because of my family’s personal connection to it. It was definitely something that I needed to grow into emotionally, spiritually. In my collaboration with Emily, there was a real potential I wouldn’t have been a subject at all. There was no intention of me being a participant.
[Then,] Aunt Charlene Baillieu performed what I think could accurately be described as a ceremony. She wrapped me in a blanket, handed me some sweetgrass, sang a song and told me that she was calling upon me and calling upon the ancestors to help tell this really important story. Charlene and others [in particular Rick Gilbert] really called me to rise to the occasion and to be willing to open up and be vulnerable about my own story. The other side of that is that Emily was incredibly caring and patient. She really understood throughout what it was that I was considering taking on, and what I ultimately chose to do.
EK: From my perspective, I really wanted Julian as a collaborator, first and foremost. It really didn’t occur to me when I reached out to him that he would be in it at all. I think that the moment that Julian described in the barn was a huge moment for all of us, because spiritually there was an energy in that room when Charlene called upon Julian. It felt like the world broke open, like time stopped, like a vortex, like they were calling on the ancestors. There was something so clearly special about Julian and his ability to lead and to help tell the story. We knew that if Julian ultimately decided to go there, it would take the entire [film] to another level. We’re so glad he did, because it’s quite extraordinary.