We first started shooting “Highway of Tears” in May of 2012. I never thought the project would have me on the road with screenings pushing into August of 2015. There are still a few more screenings we have planned until December, with a majority of them planned for mid-September into October (prior to the Canadian elections), even though the film is available online. It really amazing to see the film with hundreds of people and engaging in a conversation afterwards, which has been one of the primary reasons I've traveled so much with the film. I wanted to spark a dialogue that would hopefully lead us toward taking action.
The issue of missing and murdered women was not a topic that was largely talked about in the media when I began my research to shoot the documentary. It took a lot of footwork, emails and phone calls to find the right people to get the story right. I find it amazing that the media is now really pushing the issue and the general population is engaging, which I hope will lead to a better understanding on the root causes of missing and murdered women.
As I get ready to screen the film this afternoon in Tofino, BC, I thought it would be nice to share 18 photographs from my journey so far and give a bit of background on why they are so meaningful to me. I picked 18 for obvious reasons.
This film would really not exist if it weren’t for Amy Belling and Richard Walden (our two cinematographers). It was important to me for the film to have a woman’s touch and for the women we were interviewing to feel comfortable sharing their stories, which is why Carly (Pope) and I reached out to Amy. She’s a talented cinematographer and extremely helpful in any situation. She set the tone for the film.
Richard has a fascinating story. He was a photojournalist during the Vietnam War. He’s been on hundreds of productions and is part of the old school of filmmaking. It was important to me to have him onboard, as he provided the mature lens I wanted for the look of the film. I can’t tell you how many times I told Richard “I want the Terrance Malick shots… or something wide and real, like The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni).” In the end, we got it all. The film is beautiful and takes you on a journey.
This photo is meaningful to me, as it became a ritual for Amy and Richard to check their cameras together. Richard was actually Amy’s teacher when she was studying cinematography. I find this shot particularly touching, as here Amy teaches Richard the ins-and-outs of digital filmmaking.
I first met Brenda Wilson (Ramona Wilson’s sister) on the Annual Ramona Wilson Walk. I cherish this photo as it was the first time I saw her smile that day. We had just finished doing her interview and Amy (our DP) snapped this memorable picture. I have it printed at home as a reminder that even in the worst of situations, you still need to keep your strength and smile. I’m now happy to call Brenda a dear friend and fellow activist for violence against women.
I see nothing but love and sadness in this picture. It was a memorable moment during the walk. It was also tough being there, as at this point in the process, no one really knew me, or what I wanted to do with the film. We were a crew of outsiders and I could tell the cameras were not 100% welcome, even though they were supportive of us being there, most people probably wondered what would come of it all. This picture above Louis’ (Ramona’s brother) shoulder means the world to me. As I’ve come to know him, Louis is a strong man with a heart of gold. I’ll never forget his cries in the first few moments of our screening in Smithers. I was sitting next to him and his mother, Matilda when a frame of Ramona’s eyes flashed onscreen in the opening of the film. He was holding in so much sadness. I sat motionless in the theatre and did my best to hold back my tears. To this day, I silently pray that the Wilson family find justice for the man (or men) that took her life.
My life changed the moment I walked into Angelique’s store. When she started to talk about her sister, there was not a dry eye in our crew. I remember Amy walking away from her camera and stepping outside for some fresh air. Her eyes were filled with tears. I did my best to hold myself together that day.
This photo is memorable to me, as Angelique showcases a strong will and a deep love for her sister that I think speaks to audiences. You can see how much her sister meant to her, which was something I was very focused on showcasing in the documentary. Everyone can relate to a family member helping them out and pouring their coffee for them. I still have a tough time hearing her story, even after hearing it hundreds of times during our editing sessions and screenings.
Our screening in Terrace, BC, would not have been possible without the hard work and coordination of Kesley Wiebe, who played a pivotal role in organizing the event at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre. She also opened her home to my road partner, Doug Leslie (nicknamed "Chief Lead Foot" during our travels).
Kelsey took this picture of Nathan Cullen, Robert Pictou, Doug and myself after our Q&A. Doug is also wearing a beautiful necklace that Robert gave him. I have one that I wear from time to time when I need strength. It would such a beautiful gift. Robert is no stranger to losing loved ones. His aunt is Anna Mae (Who Killed Anna Mae NYT) and his sister has been missing since the 60s.
This picture means the world to me, as it was the first time I met Niki Ashton. She's a powerful force in the fight for MMIW and an MP with a ton of strength. It made me smile to see Gladys Radek and Niki Ashton together on the panel discussion after the film in Toronto.
This powerful group would never have come together without a man I owe a huge amaount of gratitude to: Marc Garneau. He was a guest speaker at our Montreal premiere in an event organized by my dear friend Miriel at the Montreal Museum. I had reached out to his team in hopes of him lending his voice to the issue. He did much more than that. Mr. Garneau took on the mandate from a woman in the audience in the Q&A and organized a screening on Parliament Hill (where this picture was taken).
The event wasn't without controversy. Printed invitations were refused by the members of the Conservative Government. I was happy to see many NDPs in attendance, even though the screening was organized by Mr. Garneau's office (Liberal). Having my dear friends, Barb Ward-Burkitt and Delilah Saunders in attendance made this a memorable experience. The dialogue we all had was engaging and I was so happy that Barb was there. She has such an amazing ability to relate her personal story and relate it to the big picture. We need more strong leaders like her.
I got to witness the brilliance of Dr. Carolyn Bennet and loved hearing Wayne Easter's personal connection to the issue of missing and murdered women. Many people put down politicians, but I can attest, they work insanely hard. Most take their roles very seriously and I feel sometimes don't get the credit they deserve for the work they do.
Crystal Clear was a brilliant accident. We weren’t planning on interviewing her. We had gone down to the Fire Pit in Prince George to interview some other people and Crystal was hanging around outside across the street. We didn’t have our cameras ready, as we weren’t planning on shooting, but once Crystal started talking, I quickly motioned to Amy and Richard to get their equipment.
In the end, Crystal has become very much the voice of the people in the film. She makes audience members laugh with her ‘hold no punches back’ style. Deep down, Crystal reminds me of my late mother. A brilliant woman, unafraid of speaking her mind. I don’t know when I’ll see Crystal again, but she always puts a smile on my face and I’m thankful for her voice in the film. During many Q&As, people quote Crystal often... "Bullshit" which usually puts everyone at ease and less poticially correct in their dialogue.
My dear friend and producing partner, Mary Teegee has been a huge force in fighting for missing and murdered women. Our first conversation was a tough one, as she reached out to me regarding our filming about the Highway of Tears. She’s very protective of the families and I admire her strength, as she also happens to have a personal correction to the women along Highway 16. Her cousin, Ramona Wilson was one of the victims.
Mary and her brother, Terry Teegee, have brought so much greatness to my life. This picture means a lot to me, as it was taken after a health conference in Vancouver, where we presented the film together. She's pretty much like family to me now and I think we'll work on more projects in the future.
A lot of my friends drove out to Malibu to support our film for this screening. It was a memorable night and I'm glad I got to share it with Mavis Erickson, who flew to LA on her own account to be there in support of the film and the cause we have been fighting for. I think the theatre would've been empty if it weren't for my friends showing up. I think a good 120-150 showed up that night. A few (pictured here) joined for the awards dinner after, where "Highway of Tears" won BEST DOCUMENTARY. I can't say I'm not well surrounded. I cherish and love my friends. Without them, this journey would not have been possible.
Malibu was also particularly special, since it really was the turning point of awareness building for the film. After winning at the festival, screening demands came in from all over, which had me on the road touring for over 5 months straight.
While she might not agree with me, Mavis is a pioneer for Indigenous women. She’s overcome a ton of adversity in her life and managed to excel in her field: law. Mavis is a graduate of Harvard and always on the forefront of pushing for advocacy for missing and murdered women. She’s been Tribal Council Chief, Highway of Tears Coordinator and helped many organizations, including Human Rights Watch to get the facts right about MMIW. I owe a lot of thanks to Mavis, for her guidance, friendship and faith in the project.
The documentary would be nowhere without my editor, Brandon Lott. We were introduced via a dear friend of mine, Julie. She has met him on a film set of an old-friend of mine, Brinton. Brandon is a true Texan with a heart of gold. We started editing the film on the Warner Brothers lot after hours. He was busy working “Gossip Girl” duties.
We finished the film at his home. I can’t believe the amount of hours we spent together. Very thankful to his wife and kids for sharing him with me. Much of Brandon’s heart is in the film. This picture is meaningful to me, as it was one of the first moments I realized we were getting close to finding our story. Only a few edits in there… just a few.
This picture is meaningful to me, as one of my best friends took it and was a huge support throughout the filmmaking process. It was also our frist screening of the film and it wasn't a small one. There was over 630 people in attendance at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in March of 2013. While I didn't know it at the time, it was really the begining of my work as an advocate for missing & murdered women. I never made the film thinking I would be here years later traveling to raise awareness. I've learn't a lot and determined to see a change. I love the three people I'm sharing the stage with in this photo. Meghan, Mavis and my dear friend Carly (my rock of a producing partner).
These three individuals hold a very special place in my heart. I'm thankful we all got to spend a few moments together in Smithers for our screening there. They all hold a considerable amount of pain inside, but they stand strong for others and lead the path to raising awareness for their loved ones and for all the MMIW (and non-indigenous) across the country.
This was our first screening in Prince George. It was a very touching event. I'm really thankful that the E-Pana RCMP officers came out for the screening, even though they might not have agreed with various parts of the documentary. I have a huge amount of respect for the work the officers and investigators do. I hope the Canadian government steps up and gives them the proper funding they deserve.
My sister, brother in law and our friends that first told me about the Highway of Tears are in the audience in this photo. It was also the first time my sister saw the film, which was very meaningful to me. It's essentially her guidance that lead me on their journey. All these people brought together are a result of her being a great sister to me. I can't imagine a life without her, which is probably what's driven me to fight for all the families that have had that taken away from them.
I love this woman. One of my best friends. Happy to be on this journey with her. Deep down, I wish we didn't need to fight for the missing and murdered women, but I gather we're in it till the end.
I took this picture when we first met in Ontario at the Zonta Film Festival. I know Gladys was skeptical about meeting me and seeing the film. She lives and breathes for all the missing and murdered women. I'll never forget the words she told me when the credits rolled the first time she saw the film. To have her blessing, meant I did it right. A hero's blessing.
I took this picture in Terrace. I remember how stressed and nervous I was about screening the film there. Kelsey (our organizer) sits second from the right. To this day it serves as a reminder that you can't do anything on your own. I tend to try and be everywhere and do everything, as I don't want to bother people. I'm so thankful for Kelsey putting together such a smooth screening. This film would not exist without all the people who helped organize screenings and donate their time to help.
I'll never forget the first time I saw this sign and took this picutre. All the research I had done went out the window. I knew this was a deep hole in the nortnern community. This sign is a symbol to remind me how fragile life is. There are monsters out there with the desire and intent to kill innocent people (men/boys/women/girls).
We must continue our push to understand the root causes of why these murders and disapearances are happening and try to figure out why most of us turn a blind eye to the issue. I think (thankfully) that is slowly changing.
If there’s one person to thank for “Highway of Tears” coming to life, that all goes to my dear producing partner, Carly Pope. It was her initial belief in the project that carried us through till the very end. I made her a promise over coffee that we would go out and shoot a documentary. While I haven't always stood by my word in various other places in my life, I was determined to tell this story and bring light to the families of the missing and murdered women. It was important for me that people understood their pain. I couldn’t understand why the entire country wasn’t trying to find the killers responsible for taking away these women.
The general public is getting better and the government is slowly starting to take steps at addressing the issue. I still don’t feel like we’re crossed the 50 yard line yet. There’s a lot of work to do to bring thousands of these cases to justice. Yes, thousands across the country.
I probably don’t thank Carly enough for the impact she’s had on my life. She changed it forever. She pretty much lit the fire in my heart to go after what I was passionate about. I’ve never looked back.
This picture is most meaningful to me, as it was the first time Carly and I were in Prince George together to present the film. We were at the entrance of the UNBC Theatre and went for a selfie moment. It’s one of the most special moments of my life, as it’s the first time I realized that you could bring people together and help them heal.