Brother, I Cry tells the story of Indigenous siblings, Jon and Ava, struggling with the effects of inter-generational trauma in their own ways while staying spiritually connected. (Supplied image)

Q&A with VIFF’s B.C. Emerging Filmmaker Award winner, Jessie Anthony

Her feature film, Brother, I Cry premiered at VIFF this year

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.

RELATED: ‘Monkey Beach’ supernatural film adaptation premiers at VIFF

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.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


Arts and cultureIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Tom Shypitka, pictured with his campaign team. on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. Trevor Crawley photo
Shypitka wins second term; BC NDP cruise to majority

“Election Days,” rather than “Election Day,” may be the more accurate term… Continue reading

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

BC ELECTION
Voting day: Elk Valley braves the cold to vote for next MLA

Today is the last chance for voters to have their say

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

A police pursuit ended with an arrest in Williams Lake on Highway 97 Sunday afternoon. (Facebook video screenshot)
Video catches police pursuit that ends with man kicked, punched in Williams Lake

A video of the arrest is getting widely shared on social media

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read