What we choose to retain: a film on identity and the English-speaking community of Quebec

Documentary premieres May 13 at the Hudson Film Festival

Guy Rex Rodgers, director of What We Choose to Remember. Photo courtesy of Guy Rex Rodgers

What we choose to remember explores the identity of people who identify as Anglophones in Quebec. The documentary investigates English-speaking Quebecers who have immigrated here or whose families have immigrated here since 1760.

The documentary opens by asking Montrealers if they know the meaning of the flowers on the Montreal flag. Most did not. These flowers represent the indigenous peoples, as well as the French, English, Scottish and Irish immigrants who founded the city. From there, the film divides its attention between different waves of immigration. Interviewees from each of the five waves are asked about their experiences of living in Quebec as Anglophones.

In 2018, the Secretariat for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers reported in their annual budget that English-speaking artists in Quebec felt invisible and misrepresented. It has allocated $400,000 in funding to the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) to partially produce this documentary. ELAN is an organization that helps English-speaking artists in Quebec.

At the time, Guy Rex Rodgers, founder of ELAN and director of What we choose to remember—was the executive director of ELAN.

“A lot of times for this kind of project I would have just hired a director, but because the story was so important to me and something I had taken so seriously, I wanted to do it myself” , Rodgers said.

Rodgers explained that he started thinking about this project 40 years ago. When he immigrated here from Australia, he was trying to make sense of Quebec’s unique linguistic landscape.

Rodgers said it was important to center the documentary on group interviews – a difficult task in the midst of a pandemic. He explained that the goal was for the interviewees to build on the responses of others and create a dialogue among English-speaking Quebecers.

This format was also intended to shed light on English-speaking experiences in Quebec that are not often talked about. These experiences ranged from English speakers excluded from the French Catholic school system to French language skills deemed unsuitable for life in Quebec.

“When it comes to being Canadian, I’m Montrealer first, Canadian second, and Quebecer – if you allow me to use the term – third,” explained Deborah Forde, one of the interviewees. She added that this documentary allowed her to question parts of her identity that she normally wouldn’t.

Rodgers said these interviews allowed participants to have deeper conversations and opened up a discussion about the unique experiences of the English-speaking community in Quebec.

Rodgers and his team decided to structure the documentary around different waves of immigrants who came to Quebec.

Rodgers established the first wave as occurring from 1760 to 1945, consisting primarily of English and French, with the largest minorities being the black community, the Chinese community, and the Jewish community. Then there was the post-war wave from 1945 to 1970. Rodgers explained that this is when the allophones really started to outnumber the anglophones. He chose 1970 as his end date because that’s when the October Crisis happened.

The next wave was from 1970 to 1995. This period encompassed a dense political period in Quebec from the end of the FLQ crisis to the second referendum. As for the next 25-year period, Rodgers thought it encompassed too many different realities, so it was split into 1995-2010 and 2010-now.

For each wave, Rodgers said he selected communities that had immigrated in large numbers. Documentary makers also aimed to have age diversity within these groups.

“One of the criteria was that we didn’t want anyone to hate Quebec. It made no sense. We wanted it to be a story of people who deliberately chose to come to Quebec or to stay in Quebec. For better or for worse, this is where they want to settle,” Rodgers explained.

Although the documentary began production before Bill 96 was introduced, Rodgers said he wanted to end with some comments on the language bill.

“My working hypothesis is that it’s no longer Catholic/Protestant, English/French. It’s really between people who value several languages ​​– bilingual or multilingual – or people who want to limit themselves to a single language in French. These are the people who drive Bill 96,” Rodgers said.

For interviewees like Forde, participating in this documentary has been an enlightening process.

“It was my experience to watch the final product and see myself among all these people and all these stories and really start to put some historical context to it,” Forde said. She explained that it was strange to see herself among so many people who had experiences similar to hers; especially the ones she wasn’t used to discussing.

Rodgers said he appreciates the community experience that went into making this film and hopes people will see the film as a group. He explained that such viewings could spark discussions that go beyond the ones he captured.

“I became familiar with who I think I am as a Quebecer, and that [film] made me say wait a minute, let’s watch this again,” Forde said.

What we choose to remember will be broadcast during free online. More information can be found on the ELAN website.

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