MONCTON – Julien Robichaud’s first documentary – a 48-minute piece called Le Prince de L’Acadie – is currently being shown to a national audience on Francophone channel Unis and was screened to an international audience at the World Acadian Congress (CMA) that took place across New Brunswick and P.E.I. earlier this month.
The 29-year-old wrote and directed the film in partnership with Moncton production company Botsford Bros. An entrepreneur-in-residence at Propel ICT who also previously worked with 3+ Corporation’s Business Immigrant Mentorship Program, Robichaud says he took lessons from entrepreneurship to make the film happen. Huddle sat down with him for a chat:
Can you tell us more about your film and how you came up with the idea for it?
I always had made small montages of movies even prior to going to university. I love documentaries because you’re able to see true emotions or true scenarios. And I find that really empowering.
I worked in entrepreneurship, predominantly with young entrepreneurs opening businesses, immigrants starting businesses, and a few of my own entrepreneurship endeavors. I became aware three or four years ago about the importance of immigration for the province considering that we have an aging population.
And also, a lot of young people are leaving. That’s where the idea of the movie really started. One of the things I thought was, ‘what’s going to happen to the Acadian culture if you just let the young people leave like that?’ That really started off a journey of three years to do this documentary on Acadians living abroad and what the next generation of Acadia will look like.
I wanted see what they have to say about why they left and if their intentions are to come back or not. I did a solo trip and found Acadians in Cambodia, Indonesia, Dubai, Germany – everywhere I went I found young Acadians. I found them through social media, Facebook, Instagram, through connections.
It got me thinking that once I got back, I needed to make a documentary on this – on the immigrants coming in and becoming Acadians, and the youth leaving.
How do you see your film opening up that conversation about newcomers becoming Acadians and also youth who are leaving?
I’m not going to lie, it’s a sensitive topic, the Acadian culture. My intention was also to put that on the forefront and be honest about it, that we need to maybe be more conscious of what our culture is. What I found is it’s based on four things: the language, the roots, the territory and the traditions.
We traveled with a film crew to New Zealand, England, California, Montreal, Calgary, tracking down Acadians that moved away and trying to understand more how do they see our culture. We interviewed more than a dozen people.
A big component in the movie is globalization. We talked about immigration. There’s a man from Senegal who moved here who wrote an article in the press recently that said, ‘I am Acadian.’ I’m seeing that this is the first time that so many people has moved here into the Acadian region. We really want to push that boundary of what is that Acadian identity, especially in a globalized world. I think if we want to thrive as a culture, we need to be open.
I can see it as being a sensitive topic but I think if we’re not willing to have the conversation, we’re not going to go forward.
Now let’s get into the business side of film-making, did your background in entrepreneurship help?
A film is a startup if you think about it. You’ve got to find funding, you’ve got to find a product that people like, you’ve got to do marketing. Everything’s the same. It’s just, instead of having a good product that you can buy, it’s a movie that’s being watched.
It took me two years to understand what kind of movie I wanted to make and then it took a year with a broadcaster to actually write a scenario, direct it, film it, put the pieces together and have a finished product.
One of the things that we talked a lot about in entrepreneurship, including at Propel, is the Lean Stack methodology. I thought of that methodology with this project. If I’ve got an idea, why not try to do a quick proof-of-concept and see who bites, right?
I love Anthony Bourdain’s style of travel show. So I bought two cameras, traveled by myself, came back, made a two-minute montage of the interviews I did, and showed that to the broadcaster [Unis]. The image quality wasn’t on a TV level but it really provided me that first path on showing one, that I had a proof-of-concept, and two, that there was an interesting topic here. That led them to tell me to find a production company. I partnered up with Botsford Bros – a small production company, two guys. With this type of project I knew they would be the best fit for that.
But I wouldn’t recommend spending so much money out of your own pocket, and spending so much time when there may be easier alternatives to validate your product.
Knowing the process now, I think I would have been better off just writing the movie and getting that approved. I could have shortened the process a lot. But then again, I think it’s what eventually got me to get funding because the broadcaster saw my personal interest of making this movie.
How and where did you get the funds to make this film?
Once I found a production company, we applied for development funding – grants – from Canada Media Fund and the province of New Brunswick. That provides you the time to simply write up or package the concept. Unfortunately, we didn’t hit all of the criteria that Canada Media Fund needed to fund the whole project, but Unis decided to fund the whole thing. Considering that this is my first documentary, with a small team and we’re all young – none of us are past 33 years old, we owe it to Unis TV to provide us that opportunity. They gave the green light to young folks in the Acadian community. We’re super fortunate for that.
My initial concept got ‘no’s from different people, including Unis. My first concept was a series that features one Acadian per country.
I had approached the CMA first but my pitch didn’t fit what they were looking for at the time. But it’s funny how stars aligned sometimes, right? It was broadcasted five times through the CMA this year at different locations.
The film was sold out the first night it played at the CMA, and now it’s being played on Unis’s channel and online. What kind of reaction have you seen from people who have seen the movie so far?[The CMA sreening] was great. It’s pretty touching. Not often that I had so many people that I loved within one room. I had a lot of aunts crying, a lot of people telling me, ‘I got this cousin, I got this nephew that needs to watch it that’s abroad.’
One of the main activities at the CMA is the family reunions. For our [Robichaud] family, there were a whole bunch who came from Massachusetts, Louisiana, Europe. It’s a special event and I see that Acadian culture is family-oriented and community focused. We’re happy that we had the opportunity to grow up with those values and if we can bring that to other places of the world, then great.
The movie definitely stuck a chord. Now I’m getting messages from “adopted-Acadians,” to immigrants, to Acadians from all over the world on how they either miss being back home or their intent on trying to come back. I had always thought those filling jobs could be our own relatives and family who moved away, but I think the movie gave back a sense of pride and willingness to be successful on the East Coast. I think we need to show that things can be done here, and it doesn’t always have to be from Montreal or Toronto.
Do you see your film being screened through other channels other than Unis?[Unis] is associated with TV5 Monde in France, so there might be a window there for TV5 Monde to get involved as well.
What have you learned and can share with other budding filmmakers in this region?
I think it’s about understanding the process, and being open to having conversations. Producers and broadcasters around are willing to hear ideas. They’re looking for projects.
I have a new appreciation for the film industry itself. I never had done a movie before. It’s crazy the amount of passion that people in the industry have. It’s not an easy industry. But then in the last two-to-three years, we had two series that were filmed in Moncton that’s aired on a national level. So I think the industry is growing and it’s great to see, especially for people like me that dreamt of having a documentary of traveling around the world. And I was able to make that happen.
Now I’m looking at what’s my next role. There’s three big roles: producer, director and writer. Last time I was the director and writer. I’m looking at the possibility of opening my own production company. So, if anyone wants to reach out, they can speak to me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.