An Interview About Our Acadian Series of Films

This is an interview film maker, Brenda Jepson, did with college senior, Jen St Peter, for a journalism project she was working on recently at Devry University:

1) How did you decide on doing the film about the Cajuns?

I had made a film about the Acadians, some of the first European settlers to North America, in a film spanning from 1604 – 1785. It was 1604 when the Acadians first arrived on Isle St Croix Island off the coast of Maine, and it was in 1785 that the Acadians came to the end of their period of deportation to various parts of the world. This first film was called “The Story Of The Acadians,” and it was shot in the US, France and Canada. During the making of that film I became fascinated to find out what had had happened to the Acadians after their diaspora from their beloved Acadia, which today is Nova Scotia. Some were deported to other parts of Canada, some to the 13 English colonies of America, others were sent to prisons in England and some to France.  The only crime of these peace loving people was that they were such incredibly successful farmers. This meant that the British wanted their farmlands in Nova Scotia – fertile lands reclaimed through an intricate system of dykes, created by the highly inventive Acadians.

2) What inspired you to do make a sequel?

I really became very attached to the descendants of the Acadians during the making of our first film, and so I became fascinated to discover what became of their ancestors. I am hardly the first to be compelled by this story. My fellow Mainer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard the story of the Acadian plight from Nathaniel Hawthorne, and he was so inspired by it that he wrote the epic poem, “Evangeline.” This poem recounts the tale of the Acadians through the eyes of two young lovers who were separated on their wedding day by the Deportation- a kind of Acadian “Romeo and Juliet.” It wasn’t enough for me to learn that the Acadians were scattered like chaff to the wind by the Deportation. I had to find out what happened to them afterwards. Because they were shipped to different locations, I decided to focus on one group of Acadians who ended up in Louisiana, and later became known as “Cajuns,” a corruption of the word Acadians. Our sequel is called “The Story Of The Cajuns.”

3) What was the most interesting thing you learned about this time while researching it?

I guess what I find most interesting, and admirable, about the Acadians is that although they were evicted from their homeland back in 1755, in a Deportation that took many years to complete, and although 10,000 of them perished in what was an early form of genocide, they have remained in contact with one another, against all odds. They are today, a nation without a country. They have their own language – French (although not all of them speak it as first language.) They have their own flag. They have a national anthem. The only thing they lack is their original country – Acadia, but this has not stopped them from remaining a nation without a landmass to call their own. I find this refreshing in some ways that their statehood is not based on the possession of land, but on the ownership of a special heritage born out of tragedy, but preserved through perseverance and determination.

4) Who was one of the most interesting characters you’’ve met while making these films?

I have met so many fascinating people during the filming of this series I don’t know where to begin. I guess perhaps it is Gerard Ardon at the Acadian Line in the Poitou Region of France. His ancestors had a wonderful life in Acadia and then were deported like the rest. His ancestors ended up in France, at the Acadian Line, one of the first refugee camps in the world. His family were from that region originally, leaving in the 1640′s to settle in Acadia. Then just over 100 years later, they ended up back in the Poitou region after the deportation. Stories of their beloved Acadia came down through the generations, and he heard accounts from his grandmother of what a wonderful life their family had had in Acadia centuries before. He was so excited to take part in a world wide reunion of Acadians in 2004 at Grand Pre (The Great Meadow) of Nova Scotia and to meet cousins from all over the world he had never met. Imagine returning to your ancestral homeland nearly 250 years after your ancestors had been deported to meet up with relatives!  We interviewed Mr Ardon for our first film in 2006 and we returned to France to interview him for our “Story of The Cajuns” in 2007. He lives in a part of France where 1,500 Acadian refugees, who lived at the Acadian Line refugee camp, decided to emigrate to Louisiana in 1785 and then became The Cajuns. Mr Ardon provided us with a very interesting interview about this.

5) How is this film different than all the other’s you’ve done?

“The Story Of The Cajuns” is different from other films I have made because it required me to do weeks of filming in Louisiana over many years. It was very different geographically to my usual filming locations. There is incredible heat, there are alligators, bayous and live oaks that make the setting spectacular. In some ways this may have helped me as a filmmaker since I had a better idea of how very foreign this must have seemed to the Acadians who resettled there.  They had to contend with yellow fever and snakes. And they had to learn how to farm in terrain totally different to Acadia, which had cool, moist growing conditions suitable for crops like cabbage and potatoes. In Louisiana they had to learn to grow rice and sugar cane.

6) Do you plan any more sequels in the Acadian series?

Yes, as soon as I have this film done I will begin a film about the Acadians of the St John Valley. This is another large group of Acadians who have settled in the St John Valley, which spans northern Maine and the southern part of the Canadian Province of New Brunswick, with the St John River providing the international border. I hope to have this film finished by 2014 when a World Acadian Congress will be held in the region. 70,000 visitors of Acadian descent are expected from all over the world.

7) What are you looking most forward to about this event?

It will be very exciting to see the Acadians, a nation without a country, converge on the international border between two countries and to see them reunited once more – knowing that although their own beloved Acadia was pillaged and burned by the British in 1755, nothing has diminished the Acadians’ sense of community. In a world where nations have fought so viciously over centuries for ownership of land, how wonderful that the Acadians find their identity, not in what they own in acreage of land, but in the ownership of their common history and heritage.

8) When do you think this documentary will be completed and what will it be called?

I hope to have this third documentary finished by June of 2014 and it will be called “Acadia Of The Lands and Forests.” That is how the St John Valley is known. I hope that all three of our films will be shown at the 2014 World Acadian Congress, which will be held in August of that year.