As Rendez-vous de la Francophonie (RVF) dedicates their 25th annual, March month-long ceremony edition to celebrating diverse Francophone culture across Canada, singer-songwriter Alexis Normand brings us the vulnerability of the bilingual household.
“For a long time, I felt like an impostor to my francophone identity, and because as I was growing up people believed that non-exogamous families were somehow diluting the francophone community and francophone culture in Saskatchewan. I tried to be involved and be the best francophone I could, but I never felt like I measured up,” says Normand.
Alongside comedian Eddy King, Normand will appear as a spokesperson for RVF, and present her debut documentary, French Enough, which explores francophone belonging in Saskatchewan through the lens of her family’s story.
Family and the film
French Enough transports the audience to the Normand family lake Cabin at Wakaw Lake, Saskatchewan, where the family engage in candid conversations about francophone belonging on the Prairies.
The film examines the challenges and triumphs of being bilingual in a minority-language community, and how language and identity are transferred intergenerationally. Throughout the course of the short film, the ups and downs of reclaiming francophone Canadian identity are illuminated, as each member of the family shares their story about the expectations of the francophones around them and the reality of their bilingualism.
Saskatchewan is a minority French speaking province – according to the Canadian Commission of Official Languages – with only five per cent of the population speaking both English and French, and only 1.5 per cent of the population having French as a first language.
Inspired by the lack of Fransaskois identity and representation seen from the prairies and her desire to share her experiences, Normand focused on her own personal story, which she infused with authenticity and honesty.
Growing up within an exogamous family, made up of an anglophone mother and assimilated francophone father, meant that Normand lived in an English-speaking household but was educated in French. This rupture and difference in language made it difficult for Normand to see herself as part of the ‘ideal’ Fransaskoise that she and her peers were taught about.
“There’s this sort of golden standard with two French speaking parents, and French spoken at home, and that really wasn’t my reality at all. I compared myself to that example, and I knew that it wasn’t us, but in my heart, I felt francophone and I could feel the tension the two opposing forces created,” Normand explains.
The unspoken tension and ease Normand found within her family and their relationships with bilingualism is what drew her to having a conversation about language, identity, and belonging. As well as the prompt addition of new children to her family, which brought with it an increase in the amount of French spoken in the Norman household, which was surprising considering Normand’s brother’s lack of cultivation of the language previously.
“I wanted to see where everyone stood, and I wanted to have a conversation that we’d all been having separately or individually,” she says. “I felt like there was something powerful about having an exchange with the family that could be enlightening and could have the power to foster better understanding within our family dynamic.”
French Enough weaves back and forward through time, winding through conversations of the past and footage of the youngest members of the Normand family playing, to old home videos and very current conversations. The film captures children, parents, and grandparents singing,
playing, and celebrating both of the languages they speak – demonstrating how the act of carrying a language forward can become a thing of freedom and joy after multiple generations of hardship.
The film has found its audience amongst those who do not feel as though they fit with either culture or language group, and has amplified the voices of those who face similar challenges. Its embrace of cultural diversity has empowered those often overlooked.
It is vital for the French speaking community to come together to ensure the language thrives and continues to grow in the province. Through her creation of French music, she creates ‘safe spaces’ for the francophone community.
“We need those places to be able to laugh together, to be engaged, and to share moments together and do them all in the same language,” she says. “As an artist, I find that it’s a privilege to be able to create these opportunities. I see it as community building through the arts. That through the arts, those three things – culture and language, and community – can be merged together.”
For more information and to watch the film visit: www.nfb.ca/film/french-enough