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“Blackfish” Social Commentary Graffiti Art by Michael Beerens

Over the last few years, documentary films have managed to pave their way into the mainstream movie audience. Some well crafted documentaries have presented their findings in a way that touches our hearts. These real stories are changing the way we see the world. Many of these documentaries are self-produced and completed without the aid of production companies or distributors, so the politics of censorship rarely come into play.

While editing “Highway of Tears”, I spent countless hours studying the works of documentary filmmakers in an attempt to pinpoint how they captured the attention of the world. One doc in particular managed to gain the following and momentum never seen before in modern documentary filmmaking: “Blackfish”. The film premiered at Sundance and was then picked up by CNN Films. Below is an example of the social impact a film can have to inspire people to stand up against injustices.

This is a great piece of graffiti art by Michael Beerens. I hope you enjoy it and reflect on how this work was inspired by “Blackfish”.


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Canada AM: Unraveling ‘Highway of Tears’ | CTV News

Director Matthew Smiley

With the premiere at the TIFF Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Thursday  March 6, director Matthew Smiley visits CTV News. He details how he came to tell the story of missing women and whether the police have done enough in these cases.

Matthew Smiley on CTV News talking about "Highway of Tears"
Matthew Smiley: Director of “Highway of Tears” on CTV News.

Here is a link to the interview:

Terry Teegee
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Chief Terry Teegee in “Highway of Tears”

Narrated by Nathan Fillion, “Highway of Tears” chronicles the notorious, decades-long string of murders and disappearances of young Aboriginal women along British Columbia’s Highway 16, and how the systemic racism that defined their lives also contributed to their deaths. Since the late 1960s, at least eighteen young women — many of them from disadvantaged First Nations communities — have disappeared or been found murdered along the 724-kilometre stretchof Highway 16 in northern British Columbia. None of these cold cases were ever solved until 2012, when a special RCMP investigation was able to link DNA from one of the murder victims to deceased US criminal Bobby Jack Fowler; but this single answer has done little to heal the wounds of Aboriginal communities who have seen dozens of their young women vanish along the “Highway of Tears,” victims not only of murderous predators but of the systemic racism of a federal government that keeps them trapped on impoverished reservations and, as critics charge, evinced little interest in apprehending their killers. “Highway of Tears” not only movingly relates the personal stories of the victims, but investigates how the legacy of generational poverty, high unemployment and endemic violence in their communities contributed to their tragic fates — and how contemporary First Nations leaders are striving to cure those ills.

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If you live in Toronto, please come out and join us for the World Premiere of “Highway of Tears” at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival organized by TIFF. There will be a special question and answer peroid after the film, with Samer Muscati, Meghan Rhoad, Carly Pope and Matt Smiley. A few more special guests will be added in the next couple of days.

"Highway of Tears" official poster
“Highway of Tears” official poster

Tickets are going fast, so if you plan to attend, please purchase your tickets ahead of time to ensure you’ll be able to attend.

More information will be released in the next couple of days. Thank you so much for all your support!



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The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

It is with great pleasure that I announce the soft launch of our webiste for”Highway of Tears”. It was very important for our team to share the site on this day of remembrance in order to honor, not just the 14 women who were killed at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, but all women.

We are still working on the site and adding more information over the coming weeks, so please check in periodically. Our “In Memory” section will continue to grow as we approach our release in 2014, along with some announcements regarding our actions to eradicate violence against women.

Please take a moment to honor these women:

Genevieve Bergeron, 21 Civil Engineering

Helen Colgon, 23, Mechanical Engineering

Nathalie Croteau, 23, Mechanical Engineering

Barbara Daignealut, 23, Mechanical Engineering

Anne-Marie Edward, 21, Chemical Engineering

Maud Haviernick, 29, Environmental Design

Maryse Laganiere, 25, Employee, Ecole Polytechnique

Maryse Leclair, 23, Mechanical Engineering

Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, Mechanical Engineering

Sonia Pelletier, 28, Mechanical Engineering

Michele Richard, 21, Mechanical Engineering

Annie St-Arneault, 23, Mechanical Engineering

Annie Turcotte, 21, Engineering Materials

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, Nursing Student

As always, I thank you all so much for your support for this film and on behalf of the “Highway of Tears” team, may we wish you a wonderful weekend.

Je me souviens,


Highway of Tears: We Are With You pin

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Nathan Fillion supports “Highway of Tears”

I am very pleased to announce that “Castle” star and fellow Canadian, Nathan Fillion, recently narrated our film “Highway of Tears”. Nathan is hugely talented and a caring artist. I cannot think of a better voice for the project.

Filmmakers Matt Smiley, Carly Pope and Nathan Fillion.
Filmmakers Matt Smiley, Carly Pope and Nathan Fillion.
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Santa Monica Art Walk

Hello Everyone,

We’re at it again.  Our team is feverishly working on completing “Highway of Tears” so we’ll be announcing some details very shortly on the release. I wanted to extend an invite to anyone in Santa Monica this Thursday, July 18th to join me for a fun few hours at the annual Art Walk on Montana street. I’ll be stationed at the Prudential California Realty Offices of Simon Salloom from 5pm-9pm, located at 1308 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

Come by and check out the artwork. It’s going to be the last showing before I unveil my new pieces in October. Big, bold and better than EVER.



Santa Monica Art Walk featuring Matt Smiley
Santa Monica Art Walk featuring Matt Smiley



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Highway of Tears: Forgotten Women

Ramona Wilson Annual Walk Conference
2012 Ramona Wilson Annual Walk Conference

On Saturday November 17, 2012, CBS aired Peter Van Sant’s investigation of the ‘Highway of Tears’ on “48 Hours”. My interest in the show was one of mixed feelings. For one, I had never watched this particular program until I learned that the subject was to be the ‘Highway of Tears’, and, as I am finishing a documentary on the same subject, naturally I was very interested.

After watching a few archived episodes online, I was curious as to how “48 Hours” would tackle the topic. I worried that family members of the victims were going to be exploited for the sake of television ratings and the issue sensationalized.

Finally, I watched the “48 Hours” episode the next day after a lengthy telephone conversation with my producer, Carly Pope. It dawned on me that the episode had very little to do with the Highway of Tears, but rather focused a majority of airtime on Madison Scott and Loren Leslie. Both Madison’s disappearance and Loren’s tragic passing, were not considered part of the official 18 E-Pana investigations, a division of the RCMP task force created in 2005 to review and investigate a series of unsolved murders in proximity to Highways 16, 97 and 5 to determine if a serial killer, or killers, are responsible for murdering young women in the north. Moreover, the Aboriginal stories were left in the dark. Only a short segment was devoted to Ramona Wilson, which consisted of a short interview with her mother, Matilda Wilson at her daughter’s grave site.

We cannot ignore or deny that a strong majority of the unsolved missing and murdered women cases in Canada are predominantly Aboriginal. For women living in remote communities, it is commonplace for them to travel 2 to 3 hours, just to get into a city. Severe socioeconomic issues, generational poverty and systemic racism are prevalent.  Many within these communities may not have the resources to afford a car, often too remote to secure a driver’s license and too unsupported to receive proper education on the dangers of hitchhiking.

The many underlying issues of the Highway of Tears were omitted and the focus was on the serial killer: Bobby Jack Fowler, the now-deceased Portland native linked to the 1974 murder of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen. Investigators will likely discover more Fowler victims in the coming months as they continue to track his case and see where he may have traveled during his time in British Columbia and Oregon. But he is not the only problem.

Last October, Greyhound Canada proposed a plan to reduce their services in the north, as the company was losing $14.1 million on its passenger services in B.C. In January, the cuts went through affecting an estimated 130,000 peoples in 11 municipalities, covering 46,000 square kilometers, especially in remote areas like Fort St. James. These budgetary cuts will most certainly guarantee an increase in hitchhiking and subsequently, more missing person investigations – as the many cases of missing persons continue to remain unsolved. If bus routes were most readily available and affordable, maybe missing persons cases, like that of Nicole Hoar in 2002 and others could have been averted.

It is mind numbing to think that Aboriginal women are essentially considered expendable. When a woman goes missing, the theory is “she’s just a runaway,” or a “high-risk” individual. Clearly, this is stereotyping and harsh. People seem to forget, a missing person is still someone’s daughter, mother, sister, or loved one. Regardless of gender, race and socioeconomic status, if we keep recklessly portraying our Native population as subordinate and marginalizing them in our communities, we will find ourselves continuing this horrific cycle of trying to locate bodies and seeking justice for the people responsible for their murders.

Yet, What “48 Hours” did do is bring the Highway of Tears saga to the attention of television viewers in the US and the rest of Canada. Even though I disagree with their content, hopefully their efforts help generate tips that lead to justice for the families of the victims. The MacMillen case gives us hope that RCMP investigators, social workers, community leaders and reporters who have all devoted countless hours to building awareness – have not given up.

What we hope to achieve with our documentary “Highway of Tears” is not only to go deeper into the complex socio cultural issues at hand, but also give a platform where women are the focus. The final version of the film will be a learning experience, not only about the tragic history of the highway, but also provide a contextual background of the First Nation communities and their relationship with the rest of the Canadian population and Government. Hopefully the end result is a more accurate and balanced take on the story.

We must never forget the 18 women on the Highway of Tears list, and realize that it is not just Highway 16 (or 97 and 5), it is not just the north, or even British Columbia for that matter; it is a Canadian issue. Over 500 Aboriginal women have been reported missing or murdered since the 1970s.

The more information shared among the communities, the greater the chances investigators have at finding clues that will them to solve these disappearances and murders. No tip is too small. Someone somewhere knows something. Don’t be afraid to share it.

 E-Pana tip line: 1-877-543-4822