Oscar 2012: Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis Talk Wild Life
AF: One of things that causes it not to translate very well in Europe is that for a lot of Europeans, they just can't relate to it. Canadians and Americans, we're nations of immigrants. We all have immigration in our past somewhere. So, it’s part of who we are, whereas for a lot of Europeans, it’s not part of who they are at all. Then, the whole issue of space and isolation. Not a problem in Europe, but certainly a problem in Canada. When that young guy came over, isolation was a big part of the deal. It was kind of terrifying. I'm not sure if you haven't experienced it you could relate to it.
DS: What is the genesis of this story and your desire to make this film?
AF: A number of years ago someone told me about "Remittance Men" in a conversation. They were young men sent over from England by their families at the turn of the century to "become a man" and make something of themselves. They just poured into the Canadian West. There were something like 60,000 in a ten year period. Then they all went off to fight in the First World War and never came back. I was startled by the fact I'd never heard of them. It’s a way with the Canadian West that we don't celebrate our own history because we don't have the knack for mythologizing the West like the US does. Part of it is because it was a lot tamer history. But I mentioned to my dad, "Have you heard of Remittance Men?" and he said, "Oh sure, your mother's family is full of them" which again, was a surprise for me. My grandfather and three of his brothers came over and in Wendy's family, her grandfather came over as an electrical engineer. They just bombed on the prairie. They didn't die, but they did not do very well. They were not well suited to farming. It was a very personal history but I don't think we realized how personal until we started talking about it. Not quite living memory, but pretty close. So that's where it all started from.
DS: In the US, there are few if any greater mythical icons than the cowboy.
AF: Absolutely. That's what the Brit would have heard about and would have been expecting, that culture, when they came to Canada. They dreamed of being that kind of cowboy. But, it wasn't to be. Certainly, there were real cowboys that lived a real hard life. There were lots of stories of Englishmen getting off the boat and picking up their "kit" from a store that outfitted them with a giant cowboy hat, sheepskin chaps and a 6-shooter. They were following the fantasy of the American West. And the locals laughed and laughed and took their money and sent them out to dude ranches to learn to be cowboys. And they took more of their money there and then sent them out on the prairie where they really did play polo and croquet. They really did do that a lot.
DS: It's an interesting period of history. As you say, they probably all went off and died fighting in WWI.
AF: Yep. There was a great line by a fabulous newspaper man in Calgary. He said, "Well, the Remittance Men, they may have been green, but they weren't yellow" when he was talking about them all going off to fight in the First World War.
DS: What would you say was most challenging about the story as well as the production?