Canada

Hyphen Next Steps: Self-Care and a Trip to the Motherland

I've been home from the Hyphen Roadtrip for about 2 months now. I've unpacked, decluttered, caught up with friends and family and tried to settle back into my routine. But my mind and my heart are still wandering. Most of you who have seen me since my return know I haven't been myself, and our conversations have been heavier; because I feel heavier.  

I've been struggling with readjusting to how life was before I left, but most of all, I'm struggling with the work I have to do to continue producing Hyphen. Saying that the Hyphen Roadtrip was life-changing feels like an understatement. Most of you have asked me if I got what I needed from the trip and the interviews, and I can definitely say that I did; and then some. I am so grateful for the people who entrusted me with their stories. I hold your truths of trauma, of questioning, of hurt and discrimination in my heart. I am inspired by all of you and can't wait to share our stories. I'm still collecting stories and despite still feeling exhausted from the trip, my drive and love for this project has not diminished at all. I have learnt so much from our conversations and I'm thrilled to be able to keep in touch through the wonders of the Internet, because I miss you all!

The rawness I am feeling comes from all the unearthing I did on this trip, discovering truths about this country and myself that I had kept at arm's-length until now. I know the importance of the work I am doing and that this is so much bigger than me. But in order to do this, I need to take a break and make sure I am strong enough for this fight. The general overwhelmingness I've been feeling has been difficult to manage. I've been taking some time to be alone, to stay grounded and be mindful. I started counselling which has helped me voice my emotions, find ways to cope with my anxiety and direct my energy in a more positive way. I'm very thankful for my friends who have been available throughout this whole journey with energy healing so I can feel more centred and not so all over the map.

I think it is important for me to acknowledge this part of the process and talk about self-care. I want to be open about what goes into making impactful art and driving change. I want to support those who have not had a voice, but also recognize that I need support in this too. Thank you to those who have let me lean on them and helped me process. 


So. I'm taking a break. But I am also planning the very exciting next step for the film: I'm going to India, for the very first time. This January, my mother and I will be taking a trip back to the motherland. We will be visiting the Warrior home and the place where my mother spent her childhood. I am very thankful that I get to experience this with my mum and have a chance to learn more about her history and her life. I will be gathering more content while traveling, so I'm also gearing up for another intense adventure. My mother and I will be spending time with family and friends in the UK before setting off for India, and I will be traveling to Beijing after for a long overdue visit with this lovely lady.

Until then, I'll be taking it easy and remember that I get to escape the winter for a few months. Stay warm, friends!   

The Hyphen Roadtrip - Part II

I’ve always loved solo travel. You can get lost, spend 3 hours at a coffee shop, visit the museum of wallpaper (is there such a thing?), and it doesn’t matter. Apart from being happy I get to spend all this time on my own, I’m also very grateful for the connections I’ve made with strangers along the way. Meeting people at camp grounds, in vintage shops, in an Uber carpool, and talking to them about my film has been amazing. I’ve heard so many different points of view. But above all else, I recognize the complete excitement about my project; people want to hear these stories, there is value in this documentary and Canadians (for the most part) want to have this conversation and recognize that it may get ugly. So thank you, to all the strangers I’ve met and chatted with along the way, you are making this experience so real. 

Day 7 of the roadtrip, and I’m off to Montreal. I lived in Montreal during my undergrad and return as often as I can to visit my dad and my family. Despite being homeless for the next two months, I think I can definitely call Montreal home. I got to my dad’s late that evening, made dinner and had an early night. I have 3 participants in the city, although only 2 are available to interview during this roadtrip. I met Fred the next day at Laurier metro; the plan was to walk around the area. 

I guess I haven’t mentioned how exactly I plan on making this documentary. The first thing you should know is that I am not filming the interviews. What? Yep. I originally wanted to move away from the traditional way of making a documentary, which involves lots of on-camera interviews and then a selection of additional footage (also known as b-roll). Well my film will only be b-roll. I was a little scared to explore this concept, worried that audiences wouldn’t have moments to breathe, or that they would not be able to connect with the subjects if they don’t see them talking directly to them. But watching films like “Room 237” or “Thoth” reminded me that there is always room for new ideas in documentary filmmaking. And after producing the short film “Hyphen: Gabriela’s Story” about my own experience being mixed-race, I was confidant in pursuing this vision. Not only has it allowed me to be more creative in the way I shoot this film, it also lends itself much better to my one-woman team and my DIY approach. Doing on-camera interviews means having a light kit (which I don’t have), a lapel microphone, or a boom microphone and operator (which I don’t have), a tripod (mine has been duct-taped into place), and preferably 2 cameras (guess what, I don’t have that either). Making the doc this way means I can be flexible, in terms of where we shoot and how I get there. Relying on public transport to reach my participants is fine, because all I have is a small backpack with my DSLR in it. I also get to be more flexible in terms of how the interviews are recorded. I got myself a fancy Yeti microphone, that plugs right into my laptop. That means I can go to the participants’ homes, no need for studios and sound booths (I can’t even imagine trying to book those across the country during my roadtrip). I’m also including myself in the interviews; think of a podcast, like Serial or Invisibilia, rather than an interview, where you get to hear me ask questions and share my own experience. I’m also encouraging to have questions asked of me; it’s all about sharing and having a conversation. I am not an expert in any regards and it’s nice to have people question my own position on this topic. 

Ok, back to Fred. Fred and I met through a mutual friend. She grew up in Aylmer, a similar area to where I grew up. We talked about her time in Greece, her closeness to her family and her connection to Quebec. She definitely recognized her privilege of being white and was a great listener. We shared our different experiences and she made me think about how I navigate my Quebecer identity. Despite her mostly positive experience, she has dealt with internal struggles and society’s need to label us. 

The next day, I met Emma. Emma grew up in Montreal and lives with her parents near the mountain. We spent the morning at Jean Talon Market with her mom and went for a walk around the mountain with her dad. Emma is the youngest participant in the film, but that doesn't stop this girl from having some real depth. She's an artist and an ally and such a wonderful person to know. Her passion for learning and and exploring this topic is inspiring.

This was a great way to start the interviews. I feel incredibly lucky to have people be so generous with their time and their stories; I've been introduced to families, welcomed in their homes. I don't think I can say thank you enough. Working on this project from home for the past 2 years, it's been crazy to actually be out there with my camera, meeting the people who will shape this film.

I left Montreal and headed home to Gatineau/Ottawa. It was strange to drive through the city I left only 2 weeks before. But in retrospect, it was nice to have a break and be in a familiar space before setting off on the most intense portion of the trip. I got to stay with my mom for a few days, and was able to celebrate her birthday. We had a lovely lunch at Fraser Café and went to the Star Fleet Academy Experience at the Aviation and Space Museum. I had a fully packed amazing 4 days to see as many friends as I could before leaving for Toronto.

As a special treat, I got to meet with Rema, one of the participant of the film who lives in Toronto, but grew up in Munster Hamlet, just outside of Ottawa. I met her in person for the first time, along with her husband and brand new baby. We went for a walk in the woods and she told me a bit about her experience growing up black in a rural setting. 

And off to Toronto I go! As I'm writing this, I just wrapped up my 15 day stay in the city. I will definitely take some time to process everything that happened, so stay tuned for that.

The Hyphen Roadtrip - Part I

I left Ottawa just over 2 weeks ago. After an emotional screening of my CBC premiere of "The Hyphen Project", I left my cozy house in Chinatown (at 6am!), ready for adventure. I drove with Hyphen participant Clarissa to Sydney, Nova Scotia (yes, in on day). After driving through 4 provinces, we made it to Glace Bay late that night. I spent the next day with Clarissa, exploring her home town: the Whitney Pier.

We went to the Caribbean Festival held at the African Orthodox Church, dipped our toes in the Atlantic at the Polar Bear and picked some wild blueberries around the Pier. If there was any place to start this journey, it would be the Whitney Pier. The people were as beautiful as the scenery, and I felt like I witnessed something very interesting: a community predominantly made up of mixed people. Despite a complex past, the black community and the white community had come together. I was fascinated to see such diversity in a small place, and I understood when Clarissa spoke about the Pier, saying she had grown up in a place where there was "no one way of being black". 

After leaving Clarissa, I head out solo for the first time. I stopped at a grocery store to stock up for 3 days of camping, and set off to the Cabot Trail. I was told to do the drive counter-clockwise to get the best view of the ocean as I drove down the side of the mountain. I had read up a bit about the Trail and had my eye on a small camp site near Chéticamp. It was a no-reservation site, right on the ocean. I had no idea what to expect from the trail, and once I arrived, I was floored. If there's anything you need to do on a short trip to Nova Scotia, it's to drive the Cabot Trail. I got to my tiny camp site at the end of my drive and managed to score the last spot. I hadn't camped on my own before, so setting up my tent, starting my fire and cooking became time consuming activities. That evening, as I walked down to watch the sunset by the ocean, I met a lovely woman who was also traveling solo. We bonded over our love of nature and photography and decided to plan a hike together the next day. After the Cabot Trail, I made my way to the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. This would be my last night of camping before going back to reality. These 3 days alone had been wonderful; enjoying nature's company, practicing my ukulele by the campfire and signing songs in the car. 


GABY'S LIST OF SOLO-CAMPING TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • Buy a tent small enough so you can hold either end while setting-up
  • Do not attempt to boil water on the fire; your water will disappear before you make it
  • If you cook on a burner, make sure you can cover the flame, or you will be using your body to constantly shield it from the wind
  • Shorter, thinner pasta is much easier to cook that longer, thicker pasta
  • Bring your own fire starter (like cut-up cardboard) because they never give you enough kindling. People will wonder, "wow, she's like a pro at starting fires!"
  • That 18-in-one soap stuff is the bomb; dishes, laundry, body, teeth, bug corpses on your windshield. 
  • A stove-top espresso machine (like the Bialetti) will make your camping mornings all the better. Just put that thing on the fire or your burner and sit back.

*I will add more to this list as I continue camping


My love-affair with nature was now on a break. I drove through New-Brunswick all the way to Quebec City. Before departing the East Coast, I stopped at Alma's Lobster shop and bought myself a lobster roll to enjoy on my lunch break somewhere at an Irving's Big Stop. Good call, Gaby. I got to Quebec City in the evening and enjoyed a nice pint of cold beer with my roommate's brother who kindly offered me a place to stay. I do not have a photo of his to share, but rather a photo of the cute cat he lives with. Apologies. The next morning, before driving to Montreal, I got to stop by my brother's place to meet his new baby girl who arrived a few days early! She stared at me as I held her, and I felt so very big in her eyes. I got back in my car, started a new audio book, this time Nora Ephron's "Heartburn", read by Meryl Streep, and drove. I think if anyone was to narrate my life's story, I think I would like it to be Meryl Streep. Just a thought. 


Next up, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Stay tuned!

"The Hyphen Project" on CBC


This has been a big summer for Hyphen, and it's about to get a lot bigger. For the past month, I have been busy working on a "behind the scenes" piece, which will air as part of the "Absolutely Ottawa" series, presented by CBC Ottawa Television. CBC was introduced to Hyphen through SAW video's RESOLUTION 2016 screening, where my short film "Hyphen: Gabriela's Story" peaked the interest of a CBC Executive Producer. This led to the production of a special one-hour feature on me and my larger documentary project, called "The Hyphen Project".

On July 30th, tune in to CBC television at 7pm E.T. to watch my one-hour episode. The episode will also be available online after the broadcast.

During that hour, you will see my journey in making Hyphen: 2 short films, my personal exploration of my own multiracial experience and my introduction to the 20 multiracial Canadians who will make up the film.

This project includes a lot of on-camera interviews with me. The interviews were done in-studio; lights, 2 cameras, makeup, the whole thing. If you know me, you know how comfortable I am behind a camera. I had to sit for hours doing the interview, because when I face a camera, I somehow forget how to say words. Not only that, I have also been editing the hours of footage. And it's been a whole lot of this:

I digress, it's also been an amazing piece to put together, with a lot of this: 

I then discuss the production of the short film about my own experience of being multiracial. I got to talk to my mother about the integral role she had in recording home videos since before I was born. Her meticulous documentation of my childhood was the building blocks for the short film "Hyphen: Gabriela's Story".

I also share my short film, "Go West, Young Women" which features the cross-Canada roadtrip I did with my good friend Melissa after deciding to leave my job to pursue filmmaking. This is the trip that ultimately inspired Hyphen and began my journey as a documentary filmmaker. 

I end with the big picture: the people who are in my film. Hyphen will feature around 20 multiracial Canadians who live in different parts of the country and who represent a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. The one-hour episode will introduce these participants and the stories that will makeup Hyphen. Here's a little sneak peak:

Producing "The Hyphen Project" has really given me the opportunity to take a step back and observe the evolution of my documentary project. I have witnessed my own growth and journey to self-awareness and acceptance and am confidant that this process can do the same for others. 

The episode airs July 30th and I leave for my solo two-month cross-Canada roadtrip the very next day! I leave Ottawa and set-off for Cape Breton and will be driving all the way to Vancouver. I can't wait to hit the road and meet with all the incredible people who are participating in the film.


You can follow along with me here, or on social media using the tag #HyphenRoadtrip. 


After the Fundraiser Screening for HYPHEN

I can't believe almost a week has gone by since I was standing in front of a sold-out crowd, introducing my film "Hyphen" for the first time to an audience. Last Saturday, May 30th at the Arts Court Theatre, I watched as my guests filled the room, anxiously waiting for the screening to start. I had spent the day nervously getting everything ready to make sure the event was everything I wanted it to be. 

So, of course I made the executive decision to get my hair styled at a salon instead of worrying about it myself. I sat at Jet Black Hair & Studio, let myself relax and tried not to stroke my hair too much after (it was soooo soft!). I then set off to pick up fresh homemade deserts from Rebecca at Café Eddy (she made cookies with little hyphens on them because she's amazing!). After "taste testing" the treats, I packed up the car full of Lug-Tread beer from Beau's All Natural, tasty meats and cheeses from Seed to Sausage and all the goodies I'd prepared for the event. 

A BIG thank you to my amazing roommate Catherine for helping me set-up the room for the event. We prepped the wood-panel courtroom at Arts Court as the pre-screening mingling room. I had a playlist prepared for the evening, full of songs that played in my house when I was growing up; some Beatles, some Frank Sinatra, some Céline Dion. I set up a corner with my Artist Statement for the project, a photo album full of photos of my family and a map of the world. I asked my guests to place stickers on the map in the places they identified with.  We pulled in 60+ chairs in the screening room, and we were ready. All that was left to do was wait for my guests.

I wasn't even aware of the rain until people started coming in, soaking wet. And then everyone showed up. I have to admit that I am not the best at mingling, but knowing that everyone was there for me made it pretty easy to walk up to a group of people and say hello. Makes a girl feel pretty special!

A definite pinch-me moment was meeting people who had come out because they heard me speak on CBC's Ottawa Morning the day before. 

The time came to get everyone to move to the screening room to watch Hyphen. I got my parents and my brothers to go in first, so they would be able to sit in the front, by me. After Bradley Cayford introduced me on behalf of the Ottawa International Film Festival, I made my opening remarks. Seeing the room completely full (we even had to bring in some extra chairs) was overwhelming. I took my seat between my parents, and as the music started, I felt my mom reach out for my hand. And she held it, clammy and shaking, the whole time. I think I must have watched most of the film with my eyes closed, knowing it by heart but focusing on listening to the audience's reactions; I recognized some laughs. I was so terribly nervous to not only show my art for the first time, but to also share my story and be vulnerable to the comments and reactions of a crowd. 

But the lights came up and everyone started clapping. With tears in my eyes, I made my way back to the stage to get ready for the Q&A. Despite some "colourful" comments, I think the discussion went very well. I was able to answer questions about the film and my personal experience with the subject. But mostly, I got a confirmation that this film NEEDS to be made. And I can't wait for the next steps!

So what is next? Well, I am so pleased to tell you that we raised $2,010.40 (yes, $0.40!) which will help complete the film. I'm taking the month of June to reflect on the evening and plan my next step. I will apply to have the film shown in film festivals, locally and internationally, which will help in finding future funding opportunities. I will use this first part to help approach other families who may be interested in participating in the film. I am also planning the creation of an online forum for Hyphen, so people can share stories about their own hyphenated identity.

Safe to say, this project still has a long way to go and I am so excited to get to work! I would like to thank The Ottawa International Film Festival for hosting the evening. You can see more photos of the evening, all taken by the amazing Justin Van Leeuwen, on my Facebook page (that you can also follow to get news about Hyphen).

Keep an eye out for news about Hyphen; I am looking forward to the future! 

 

Go West, Young Women

GoWestYoungWomen_cover

Last month, my good friend Melissa and I went on a cross-country adventure. She was moving to BC, I wanted to accompany her, and we both really like the movie Thelma and Louise. So we set off, leaving from Ottawa and arriving in Vancouver 2 weeks later. We were equipped with a tent, 3 iPods full of music and podcasts, a huge thermos for coffee and high spirits. I brought my trusty camera along on the trip, not really knowing what I intended to do with the footage. Once I came back and went through the weeks of footage I had, I discovered a story. A story of a friendship growing and changing with the landscape. It's hard to explain what makes a great friendship, and I'm lucky enough to have more than one. Through the crazy amazing adventure we had, I have come to realize how much this person means to me. So this short film is dedicated to you, Melissa, my road warrior partner in crime.


And here are some photos I managed to snap while I wasn't filming!