Director's Statement: Lester Alfonso
I find myself in a counseling session with a therapist who asks me "Do you think it was traumatic for you to move to Canada from the Philippines at age twelve?"
The question comes unexpected. It hits me hard and I am momentarily stunned. I never really thought about it quite that way before. I wonder ... if there is a path to the past to which I had some mental obstacles to clear away.
So now, I'm sitting in the counseling office and all I really want to do is speak to my future self. Or at least someone older who also came here from another country at age 12. It would be like speaking to my future self, in a way. Could there be something my future self could tell me to help me at this stage in my life?
I keep thinking about it and become fascinated with the idea that the search to find answers could be a film. The film itself would be the engine that will drive my journey to seek deeper into myself as I go outward. Share with the world what I discover.
Instantly, random encounters and coincidences begin to happen and I start meeting people who also moved to Canada at age 12. My eyes are open now. I'm watching everybody. I'm asking questions. Listening hard for details. I'm looking for myself in them.
My therapist agrees that twelve is really "at the cusp of a developmental stage." For myself, it was perhaps the moment I began to figure out the kind of person that I would like to be. Canada would end up playing a big role in defining who I am precisely right now.
I send a short description of the film idea to the National Film Board of Canada and they call me back! Slowly, it sinks in ... I have to take this plunge. The world is simply conspiring to help me make it. People are coming to me to tell their stories.
Iga moved from Poland at age 12. She was so shy that she didn't speak at all through high school. She says "When I decided to speak, I said the hell with it, I have a thick accent I don't care - I'll speak!"
I wonder if anything can be said or described to prepare a 12-year-old for a new life in Canada? If there was a "Preparation Video" that was done right - how would it be done? Can we figure out ways to ease the transition, show examples of other cases? Are there more people immigrating now? Is the film really for the parents of these kids? Could the film enhance understanding across cultural divides?
My head is full of questions. But what I really want to ask is: if you could go back and talk to your 12-year-old self, what would you say?
I just started looking back at my own life at age 12 and it has already begun to help me piece together a better sense of self. I think I'm realizing things that I've needed to realize for a while. Could this film give some the opportunity to heal? By examining this specific period in a person's life are we bridging some kind of gap?
People continue to approach me with their stories. Long-distance from India, my friend Deepti says, "Well you know how it is. You develop some kind of duality. I began to have a kind of double life - one outside of the home and one inside."
There are billions of stories out there. There is a recent story in the paper about a mother who was about to move to Canada from Egypt and was worrying about what her 12-year-old son could expect in the post 9/11 climate at the time.
I know Charlie. He moved from Malta in the 1940s and had difficulties learning the language. He had a hard time fitting in and got his name changed from Carmen to Charlie. I know Roland who came from Austria in 1988. He's a DJ in Toronto now. What does he think of all of this? And then, there's Erin who moved from Michigan to Oshawa and hated every minute of it. The police eventually caught up with her and her parents got a court order to send her back to the States.
It feels like the film is really going to get made. Okay. So. What's the idea again?
The filmmaker will pose a question: what happens to 12-year-old children when they have to restart their lives in a new country? Could this be traumatic?
The filmmaker wants to look back at his own life and figure out what kind of effect the move to Canada had on him. The filmmaker wants to film himself in sessions with his therapist. (Am I ready for this?)
The filmmaker wants to make a film that is a montage of stories from twelve different people. The filmmaker simply wants to share personal histories with people who also moved to Canada at age 12. The film follows the search to find these people. The filmmaker lets them tell their own story. The filmmaker uses newly shot footage and each subject's own archival footage to create these uniquely Canadian histories.
The filmmaker can tie it all up with his own story because he is a subject as well. The end result is a film that will present a unique cross-section for the human archive - 12 Canadians who were not born in Canada.
And in watching the film, we could all perhaps glimpse the world as a 12-year-old child for whom a new and unknown life in Canada has just begun.