Despite the sometimes horrific memories and stories shared in Halifax filmmaker Jon Mann’s documentary You Can Call Me Roger, about the life of retired Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Roger Joseph Augustine, there remains an overriding sense of hope and optimism.
Not only is it an incredible story about Chief Rogers, but as stated in the film, I think that there is an entire country at stake here. – documentary filmmaker Jon Mann
“There is a lot of resiliency in this film,” says Mann. “Nearly everybody we interviewed said the same thing: what’s the alternative? Do we roll over and give up? The reply was it was not an option.”
For Mann, it was a surprising response. “It is massively inspiring that a documentary filled with issues, problems and memories that were so negative and detrimental to their lives that they still have a glimmer of hope,” he says.
Receiving its world premiere at this year’s FIN Atlantic Film Festival, the film tells the story of Chief Augustine’s experiences as a residential school survivor, the prolonged assault on the Indigenous people in Canada, and his 45 years in leadership.
“It doesn’t take long when you’re speaking with the Chief to realize what this person has been able to accomplish despite having every sort of unfair disadvantage put on him throughout his lifetime,” says Mann. “Not only was he a residential school survivor but was also a residential school escapee that eventually led him on a path to his leadership roles that are at the very least inspiring.”
Mann’s interest in capturing Augustine’s life on film came from a connection between the Chief and Mann’s family. That familial tie would eventually convince Augustine to be part of the documentary, even after turning down other opportunities to tell his story. “I think he had a hard time believing that his story was worthy of attention,” says Mann.
It would be Augustine’s daughter-in-law Lori, who receives special mention in the film credits, who would eventually convince him not to tell his story for himself but his grandkids as part of his legacy.
“The funny story is that his son Galen had been trying to convince him to do something like this for years, and then all it took was Galen’s wife to say those seven or eight words, and Roger was on board,” says Mann.
As a white settler, Mann was honoured that Augustine agreed to let him tell his story. Mann also saw the making of the film as a personal imperative during this time in our country’s history.
“We are all treaty people, and we all have a role in the reconciliation process,” says Mann. “It’s way too late to be non-partisan about this issue, and I truly believe that if you’re neutral or on the fence in situations of injustice, then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
As a documentary filmmaker, Mann approached the film with genuine curiosity.
“I wanted to understand things happening in the country I grew up in and did not learn about in the public school system in New Brunswick,” he says. “If there was anything that my career or craft could give to the reconciliation process, then I wanted to do that.”
Mann hopes his film will continue to spark conversations around truth and reconciliation in Canada.
“Not only is it an incredible story about Chief Rogers, but as stated in the film, I think that there is an entire country at stake here,” says Mann. “We have a long way to go, but I legitimately believe a better Canada awaits once we pull ourselves up and realize that we can be good neighbours and enjoy this country together.”
You Can Call Me Roger screens as part of the 2022 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival on September 21 at Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane (5657 Spring Garden Rd, Halifax) and online now through FIN Stream until September 22. Visit finfestival.ca for tickets and information.