Jessie Anthony wrote, directed and produced Brother, I Cry, which had its world premier at this year’s virtual Vancouver International Film Fest, Sept. 24 - Oct. 7. VIFF awarded Anthony with the festival’s B.C. Emerging Filmmaker Award. The following interview has been edited for brevity and to avoid spoilers.
Zoë Ducklow: How did you get into filmmaking?
Jessie Anthony: I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller since I was young. I was always dramatic, always pretending something. When I looked for summer jobs, they never had jobs in theatre. They were jobs at a gas station or something like that. So I had people in my community wrote proposals and we’d put theatre camps together, or March break camp. I went to school for performing arts [and later was] accepted to Vancouver Film School’s acting program. The whole time, I saw a need for more Indigenous voices in filmmaking. Then I was accepted to Capilano’s Indigenous Filmmaking program.
And you won the B.C. Emerging Filmmaker Award from VIFF with your first feature.
I’m still so over the moon on that one. I called my mom when I found out and cried, and said, I just remember being a little rez girl saying, I wanna make movies. I wanna be in movies. I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do that. And then to be recognized for it, it does something to you. Comments I’m getting from home too, people saying, “you always said you were going to do this!” So it’s quite an honour.
How did the story of Brother, I Cry come to you?
I had a dream where my brother had a overdose and his spirit came to me and told me, “I’m scared, I don’t know where I am, I need you to find me.” In my dream I went searching, and in reality, I know where all these drug house were because I’ve either dropped him off or picked him up there. So I was travelling through my dream trying to find him.
When I woke up I had this overwhelming feeling that this was going to be my reality, and that I needed to do something about it. That became my final short film [for the Capilano graduation project].
Nothing I do is going to save him, he needs to want to do it himself. But maybe if I show him my fears, it might make a difference. Or it might make a difference to someone else.
Have you talked to your brother about the film?
Yes. He very much knows my thoughts. We’ve worked very hard to be where we are in our relationship with his addiction. I’ve called him and read a scene to him and said, is this how it works? I know definitely called him and said, how do I steal a car? And he’s like, “this is how you’d steal a car,” you know.
But he also knows that the story is a collection of people. He’s the inspiration, and there’s a lot of influence there, but I also wrote from my experience dating someone who was addicted to crack cocaine. I wrote based on things that have happened all around me. All those characters have pieces of my personal trauma.
You’ve mentioned before that there’s a need for more positive, empowering Indigenous stories to be told, but also that you wanted to tell this story because it’s how it is on your rez when you go home.
I was nervous that people would take it the wrong way, but at the same time, it’s truth and I’m coming at this from a place of love. I want people to have a conversation. I want people to know they’re not alone. I want families to know that that frustration, I feel it too.
And that’s not a race thing, that’s not just an Indigenous thing, that’s a universal thing.
And I get it, there’s a need for those empowering stories. There is so much beauty and so much power in our stories. So you do have, as an artist, space to tell that truth. But I don’t know, I just felt I needed to tell that story. And it is being told from an Indigenous perspective, so I think it’s been told with a lot of respect.
Jon does this thing where he lights a cigarette from the toaster. It seems so much harder than just using a lighter.
Well that’s just it, he’s always loosing his lighter. It’s very common in my family, people smoke, and a lot of times you’re not allowed to smoke in the house. Even if they might find the lighter or go get one, that was just the easiest thing to do.
With [Jon], it’s a small subtle thing that he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t even listen to a simple house rule.
It was striking how each character clearly had their own backstory, their own way of responding to pain, and to Jon’s addiction.
I hope I communicated inter-generational trauma without being like, “This is inter-generational trauma! This is residential schools!” I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to bring people in and use the camera. I tried to put the camera like a fly on the wall to get glimpse of that cycle, and be invasive, and move with the family because that’s what the trauma does.
Like there’s that one scene in the kitchen where you’re in the corner, we’re in the corner watching, and you see the living room, the front door, the rest of the kitchen. Those three different spaces and the family is moving through them, and it’s like, that literally is how trauma is. It’s sitting in the corner watching us trying to figure it out.
Without giving away the ending, this film really doesn’t give viewers any way out, it doesn’t make us comfortable.
Yeah, this is my fear. The movie is my fear for my brother.
And I’ve gotten texts from people, days after they watched saying, “We’re still cracking ourselves open. Thank you, because you’ve allowed me to grieve for our people.” Grief that she didn’t even know that was in here that started to move. Some of the comments I’ve been getting and the personal stories, I’m so grateful people have found that connection for themselves.
It takes a certain kind of bravery to make a film like this about issues that are still live for you. Like, this isn’t something that resolved and you’ve had time to reflect on.
No. He’s still very much a functioning addict. That’s another thing, I didn’t want to show a typical addict, I wanted to show a functioning — two functioning addicts — like Leah, she’s on methadone. Let’s talk about that. Oh you’re pregnant and on methadone? That’s something we’ve had to go through. And the shame and embarrassment that comes with that. Let’s get rid of those stigmas first.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t know any of the answers. All I know is I needed to bring up a conversation and say I love my brother and I don’t want him to die but this is the reality.
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