Thursday, September 29, 2022

Unravelling a mystery in miniature

Halifax filmmaker Jackie Torrens uses miniatures to help tell the story in her documentary film Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille, opening this year's FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.

Fascinated by miniatures after completing a radio documentary several years ago about the artists who create them, Halifax filmmaker Jackie Torrens was looking for a story she could use the medium for documentary reenactments.

Being able to tell the reenactments using miniature sets allowed us to show different interpretations of that night in 1968, depending on who was telling the story.

A series of tweets about the mysterious death of Corporal Bernie Langille in 1968 at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick would give her that opportunity, becoming part of Torrens’s documentary film Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille, opening this year’s FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.

“I was also inspired by the work of Frances Glasner Lee, who around the 1920s had created a series of miniature dioramas based on real-life crime scenes,” says Torrens. “They are incredibly gruesome and incredibly wonderful works of art that are still used today to train police officers.”

On the lookout for a “surreal and subversive story” in which to use miniatures, Torrens would eventually find it in the strange story of Langille’s death after reading about it from his grandson and namesake on Twitter. “He said he had never met his grandfather but was asking for the public’s help to solve the mystery of the elder Langille’s death under bizarre circumstances.”

Delving further into the story, Torrens uncovered layers to the mystery surrounding Langille’s death, beginning with his wife discovering him in bed next to her, critically injured from a fractured skull. A series of increasingly strange circumstances, concluding in theories of murder and a military cover-up, plagued the family since.

Bernie Langille looks through the window of one of the miniatures used to help tell the story of his grandfather's death in Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille.
Bernie Langille looks through the window of one of the miniatures used to help tell the story of his grandfather’s death in Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille.

“Essentially, they were left in the dark with this traumatic and unresolved event for a half-century,” says Torrens. “Then the grandson came along, who had grown up hearing this story, and he wanted to find answers about what had happened to his grandfather to bring healing to his family.”

Reaching out to the younger Langille, he was immediately on board with Torrens’ vision for the film, calling the miniature sets created by Kentville, Nova Scotia artists Shelley Acker and Iris Sutherland “amazing” when he first saw them in the studio.

“It occurred to me that it was like Bernie had grown up with this strange story, almost like a dark family fable,” says Torrens. “Being able to tell the reenactments using miniature sets allowed us to show different interpretations of that night in 1968, depending on who was telling the story. It also lent this feeling of this strange story coming from Bernie’s childhood.”

As Torrens began exploring the mystery of Langille’s death, it became evident the film had more significant implications for his grandson and his family.

“Bernie was under the impression that this story had no effect on him and that he was taking on this journey to see if he could find some answers to bring about some healing,” says Torrens. “It was a profound revelation to him as we went along on this journey where he realized he had been affected by this event and that it became a story about a family suffering from intergenerational trauma.”

But while Torrens says she never expected to fully solve the mystery of Langille’s death in the documentary, the film offers some answers but, more importantly, provides some closure for Langille’s grandson. “Bernie does feel that healing has been brought about because of the film,” says Torrens.

Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille screens as part of the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival opening night gala on September 16 at Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane (5657 Spring Garden Rd) and online through FIN Stream. Visit finfestival.ca for tickets and information.

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