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Hot Docs Jots

Watch the Online Release of Andrew Moir's Short Film: Babe, I Hate to Go

Hot Docs Deal Maker and Corus-Hot Docs Development Fund alum Andrew Moir talks about dealing with mortality in his CBC Short Doc and Hot Docs 2017 official selection Babe, I Hate to Go.

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Watch the film on CBC Short Docs.

HD: What is Babe, I Hate to Go about?

Andrew Moir: It's about a migrant worker named Delroy, who for the past 30 years has been travelling back and forth between Jamaica and Canada, working on a farm here and and going back to his family in Jamaica every six months. Delroy learns he has cancer and the film shows him struggling to cope with the diagnosis, and what that means for his life and his family's life.

HD: You worked alongside migrant workers on your uncle's tobacco farm in London, Ontario. What is it like to work with a community and then turn your camera to them?

AM: I started shooting right after I graduated from university five years ago. I wanted to make a film about my uncle’s tobacco farm because it's a dying way of life and I wanted to follow my cousin as he decides if he wants to inherit the farm or not. I got to know Delroy really well over that first year because he was really close with my cousin and they had a really amazing father-son relationship. I had worked with Delroy too but didn't know him that well. When Delroy learned he had cancer, the film began to shift towards him. I never intended the film to be about a migrant worker, but that’s where the story went. 

It was interesting to take on the perspective of a migrant worker on a farm, though compared to most other farmers my uncle has good relationships with his workers. I think because the nature of the operation is really small and he works with a few of them all the time, his kids work with them and have known them since they were really little, so they have a special relationship compared to other workers in other circumstances. But a power dynamic does exist: I didn’t realize just how important my family was to Delroy and his roommate Martin, until I spent time alone with them. Not just on a financial level, but on an emotional level. They knew so much about our lives and I didn’t realize we were so important to them and that they paid attention to so much of what we did. It wasn’t surprising when I thought about it, because my family and their colleagues are their whole life for about six months.

HD: As a filmmaker, what did you learn from dealing with somebody's mortality on screen?

AM: I was with Delroy and his family when he died in 2015. I wasn’t expecting him to die when I was there, it just happened. As a filmmaker, I just made sure our relationship was as genuine as possible. The human relationship first and filmmaker relationship second, that’s what I always did. Every time I went to Jamaica I would hang out with them for one or two days before filming, just because they needed to trust me. I couldn’t articulate to them what I wanted the film to be, because I didn’t know what the film was going to be about half of the time. It was also difficult even to articulate what a documentary was, because they had never really seen a documentary before. I did the best I could to articulate things as clearly and honestly as I could, but I knew that the most important thing was just them trusting me as a person, so that’s what I focused on: building a relationship with trust that was based on a real human connection, and that’s how I’m going to continue making my films.

When it comes to death and mortality, the one thing that I regret is that if I had known that Delroy was going to die when I was there, I would’ve done more research into customs on grief and mourning in Jamaica, because its completely different. I learned that in Jamaica they really like documenting grief, and they were upset that I hadn’t filmed more.

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HD: The protagonist of the film completely changes. You are following your character, and then they’re gone and someone else takes focus. What was that like?

AM: I was so excited for that, creatively. The feature film will be more of a family story than about Delroy. It’s a story of how a family survives this final test of their relationship once Delroy finds out he has cancer. So Delroy is the lead in act one and two, but his girlfriend Sophia is a strong second lead and we really get to know her from the beginning. When Delroy dies, I think it will be a quite natural movement over to Sophia. We will see how she picks up the pieces and carries this resilience that Delroy had, how she applies it to herself and how she grows as a person with this new responsibility. So we really capture her a year and a half later as a completely different woman. Still grieving, still living though vulnerabilities and insecurities, but also becoming very independent, which she’s never known in her life. She carries Delroy with her in spite of the tensions that existed in her relationship. She holds onto the good and that’s what she uses to keep going. The reason they aren’t a perfect couple is because the nature of their relationship is founded on survival. Sofia needed a man to look after her, and he needed a woman to look after his kids. They learned to love each other. It was a very passionate relationship but at the same time there were a lot of problems: addiction on both sides and co-dependency. She's a character that everyone can get behind, from the very beginning she is vulnerable and open.

HD: How did the commission for CBC Short Docs come about?

We met Executive In Charge of Production at CBC Docs Lesley Birchard at Hot Docs last year and we initially approached her to do a feature, but the running time and budget that they were interested in wasn’t going to accommodate the story I had shot. So I pitched them a small piece of the larger story. The film we ended up with isn’t a “shorter version” of what my feature will end up being, it’s a self-contained story about one of the feature’s central characters. The viewer gets a glimpse into his world and I think the editor and myself found a way to set the stage for what happens next in the larger story. I’m happy with what we ended up with.

The experience working with Lesley and her team was amazing. CBC Short Docs is a new strand so they’re open to experimentation and new ideas. There were was no pre-determined format and she was flexible about the runtime - whatever best suited the story is what she wanted. There are very few places emerging documentary filmmakers can go to get their films made anymore. I think Lesley is building something that’s going to be a foundational component in the careers of many new documentary filmmakers. I would argue that most documentaries don’t need to be more than 50 minutes long anyways, I hope CBC continues to grow Digital Shorts.

Learn more about Babe, I Hate to Go:

Watch on CBC Short Docs.

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Interview by Madelaine Russo. 



Categories: Director's Notebook

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