Unlike some of the other students, Samara Chadwick never kept a diary during the waves of suicides that swept through Dieppe’s École Mathieu-Martin in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Instead, after the second wave of deaths in 1999, the then 16-year-old sought refuge from her grief by leaving the Moncton area entirely. She found a school she could attend outside New Brunswick.
‘I started asking people what they remembered and everyone had very different numbers in mind, and accounts and timelines, and that was the initial interest in the film.’
– Samara Chadwick, documentary filmmaker
Now, almost 18 years later, the Montreal-based Chadwick is finishing the editing on her documentary film about that time.
The film, titled 1999, is almost more about the living than the dead, she said in an interview.
“There’s a truth in it that is maybe greater than the objective fact about how many children died and when exactly it happened,” she said. “And it remains more about how people carried those stories on in their lives — all of us who survived the deaths.”
Chadwick remembers the suicides taking place in the winter of 1995, early 1999 and possibly late 2001 — each wave separated by about three years, with a total of 12 to 15 deaths.
The idea for the documentary, her first film, came to her after she talked to an old friend and realized how different their memories were of that time.
She said there’s little in people’s minds about those years “that remains an objective fact.” There’s also not a lot of information available online, she said.
”I started asking people what they remembered and everyone had very different numbers in mind, and accounts and timelines, and that was the initial interest in the film,” she said.
Chadwick never tried to pin down the real numbers, and that’s not what the film is about, she said.
“It never even goes into any objective fact. It remains in the space of what people kept from that time, in their boxes and diaries and what they remember.
“And so it formed kind of a collage.”
A language for grief
What Chadwick does remember is how people kicked into survival mode, many of them leaving the school as a way of getting through that time.
For the most part, the deaths were dealt with in silence, she said.