CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
My Ancestors Were Rogues and Murderers.
Anne Troake (Writer & Director). Kent Martin (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
55 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 9105 085.
Sealing-Newfoundland and Labrador-History.
Newfoundland and Labrador-History.
Grades 8 and up/ Ages 13 and up.
Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.
My Ancestors Were Rogues and Murderers tells the story of Elsie Troake-Drover and her extended family of Twillingate, Newfoundland. It is especially the story of the seal-hunt, and how its far-flung detractors, together with local participants, especially activist and sealer Garry Troake, all played their parts in shaping the hunt's image in the world, here and beyond our shores.
Let me state my biases before I begin this review. As an amateur student of population biology (and its variables as influenced by climate change and other factors), I've not been entirely convinced by some animal rights' activists that our annual seal-hunt is out-of-step with the times. The media outlets' coverage of the seal-hunters have frequently made me wonder where the informed, impartial scientists (who have nothing to gain or lose in the fight) currently stand on the pertinent issues. I know what First Nations peoples think, and this film motivated me to see what more I could learn about the many questions surrounding the hunt.
As Anne Troake interviews and films members of her close-knit family of fishers and sealers, we learn first-hand about numerous aspects of the annual seal hunt. We learn, for example, that seal pups are neither hunted with rifles, nor clubbed to death in Newfoundland. As well, we gain a bit of perspective into the unnecessary tragedy brought upon this family and others by short-sighted government regulations. We are treated to the first-hand recollection of the articulate and mischievous Elsie as she reflects at ninety years of age upon her community and her people. This roguish senior recounts the story of the first and only time she ever killed a seal. While I was amazed at many of the observations offered by Troake-Drover and others, including the film-maker, it is important to see the story of the seal hunt as having pros and cons which continue to evolve.
The "hard science" may still elude us by the film's end, though you will surely have gained some "hard facts" about how and why the seals are killed in this part of the world. Archival footage adds depth to the telling of this important Canadian story - as do the unique shots of land, sea, artifacts, and various personalities. If ever there was a gorgeous film that would challenge the stereotype, this is the one.
The possible uses for this film are numerous. The most obvious connections to the classroom are the curricula themes from Canadian geography, population and wildlife biology, photography, film-making, language arts and English. In capturing the spoken word from several different Newfoundlanders, the documentary has provided viewers the ability to read close-captioning. If you have occasion to teach the word "stereotype" or want your students to question the basic assumptions they and others may still hold about killing seals, this is a terrific prime-time selection. Don't miss it!
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired teacher who lives in London, ON.
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