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Film Review: Birth of a Family

Birth of a Family
Written by: Tasha Hubbard and Betty Ann Adam
Directed by: Tasha Hubbard
Opens: October 1, 2017


Imagine growing up as part of a foster family while dreaming and hoping that someday you could meet your blood relatives. Unfortunately, for some Canadians, this was a daily reality.

The film Birth of a Family, featured in this year’s Edmonton International Film Festival, follows four siblings taken from their mother Mary Jane (MJ), a Dene single mother. For the first time in their lives, brothers and sisters Ben, Rose, Esther, and Betty Ann all unite together after growing up with nothing but distance separating them.

During a period known as the Sixties Scoop, both Canadian federal and provincial governments actively removed about 20,000 Indigenous children from their homes and placed them within the care of the child welfare system. This policy remained in effect from 1955 to 1985.

All four siblings insist that this is not a family reunion. This is a family union. For 40 years, or 211 birthdays, each of them dreamed of being with their true First Nations family.

Birth of a Family is a simple, humble, and down-to-earth documentary covering the precious moments MJ’s children experience together. Starting with the nervous first encounters at the Calgary airport, the four travel to Banff.  There they spend every moment together, whether simple or elaborate. Their time in the Alberta Rockies consists of teaching each other crib, visiting tourist attractions like the Columbia Icefields, and exchanging memories. The important thing is that they are together. There is a certain beauty in watching each sibling become more and more comfortable with the others, sharing their stories, pictures, and living temporarily under one roof.

The film lets the compelling story of a disrupted family made whole again do all the talking. No complicated flashbacks or overtly ambitious cinematography cloud the experience. Instead, all attention focuses on the family unit learning to work together to piece together what they missed out on.

Despite the heartbreaking story, Birth of a Family, always manages to shine a potent hopeful tone. Even when Rose and Betty Ann discover the fact, gut-wrenchingly, that once adopted they lived only 15 miles apart from each other, the two are quick to reorient their despair into tenacious hope. Rose laughingly remarks that 15 miles have been reduced to only 15 inches. Consequently, this distance is reduced to zero once they tenderly embrace.

Ben, Rose, Esther, and Betty Ann all dealt with their realities differently. The commonality between them is their firm resolve to begin a life they were so wrongly denied. None of them are familiar with their First Nations roots, but they begin the journey, hand-in-hand, to rekindle their ancestral heritage.

Birth of a Family reminds viewers of a painful past that many First Nations peoples had and continue to trudge through. This film triumphantly shares a momentous occasion in the lives of four siblings united, consolidated, and bonding through every second spent in each other’s presence. Despite missing out on so many integral life occasions, Ben, Rose, Esther, and Betty Ann only look ahead to what their next gathering will offer.

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