You don't get to pick your family, at least that's how the saying goes. But Edmonton filmmaker Guy Lavallee says you can.
Family doesn't always mean related by blood, and that's the theme that is reflected in Lavallee's new documentary Family Ever After, which debuted Sept. 24 on CBC Gem.
"Family isn't just the bloodlines that brought you into this planet. Family is the people who are there for you," Lavallee told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"You know, blood through blood, sweat and tears every single day of your life. Who's supporting you and loving you unconditionally."
In Family Ever After, Lavallee explores his own, non-traditional family, in which two families came together to create one big loving entity for their children.
After his wife Tammy had a miscarriage, the couple decided to adopt, a move that felt natural to Lavallee, who had been adopted as a child.
The couple connected with a now-defunct Alberta program called "Foster to Adopt," in which foster children were placed into homes with parents who would be willing to adopt.
Listen | Guy Lavallee explores the concept of a non-traditional family in his new film
"Instead of bounding them from home to home, the placement would be with a family that wanted to adopt, not to be a foster home," he said.
After months of training sessions, workshops and meetings, Lavallee and his wife were asked to take in a pair of siblings: a three-year-old girl and her 18-month-old brother.
Within two hours, the children had a new home with the Lavallees.
One year later, Alberta Children's Services informed him that the children were being sent back to their birth mother.
It's where most stories would end, Lavallee said, noting that it wouldn't be usual for a relationship to continue when children go back to their birth parents after being in a foster home.
Instead, the Lavallees and the birth mother figured out a routine where they can all be involved in their children's lives. It's really no different than children with divorced parents, Lavallee said.
"The film really dives deep into how we kind of all work together to resolve all that," he said.
The concept of adopting a family is normal for Lavallee, whose perspective is formed both by being an adopted child and also in his broader definition of family ties.
He's always had people in his life that he considers family, even if he's not related to them — such as Jazmin Ferdinandi, the daughter of Lavallee's best friend who died.
"We're actually not related by blood at all. But she's always been my niece and I've always been Uncle Guy ever since she was born," he said.
Lavallee hadn't planned to tell the story of his family. The idea sprung up in conversation with a friend and director.
"She was kind of the one that sparked the idea," he said.
Lavallee's film includes interviews with his relatives and friends, in which they discuss topics like pregnancy, adoption and family.
He hopes the film redefines a perfect family to be a group of people who love and support each other.
"We're all just trying to do what's best for the kids," he said.