I Discovered My Dad Was a Cult Leader and Met His Followers
Kalina Bertin saw filmmaking as her chance to understand herself and her family through a man who was impossible to know in life.
George Patrick Dubie went by many names and had multiple families in different cities. Photo courtesy of Kalina Bertin.
Montreal-based filmmaker Kalina Bertin wanted to understand the role of bipolar disorder in her family. She decided that the answer must lie with her father, George Patrick Dubie . Described as a loving partner and dad, a doomsday cult leader, and a con-man depending on who you ask, Dubie lived a life full of mystery. Seen as a Christ-figure at his Hawaiian hippie commune, he dubbed his 200-plus followers "the Significants," and had many secret identities. Bertin's film Manic premieres at Toronto's Hot Docs on April 30, and follows her search for answers.
I was never really sure what my father's name was. On my birth certificate it's Douglas Winter, but my father's real name, I found out later, is George Patrick Dubie. When I was 15, I remember I was getting angry with my mother because I just really wanted answers about my father. I went into her study, and I started looking through her things. I discovered these articles that described my father as a cult leader.
I grew up on a very small Caribbean Island called Montserrat. I remember those times as the best moments of my life. Growing up there and being close to nature. My father was very present in my life at that point. I looked up to him. He had this very strong, powerful presence, and when I was with him I felt like this light shone on me. He taught me how to swim. He taught me how to climb trees. I really felt connected with my father.
When my father was here, he was here. He was present. He'd spend time with you. But then he'd disappear for a week or two. We didn't know where he went, and then he'd be back.
There was so much beauty, but there was so much darkness as well, because when my father's mood would suddenly shift, it was quite terrifying. I have memories of him going into the kitchen and breaking everything and becoming violent, fighting with my mother. It was hard to reconcile these feelings that I had for my father, this intense love and connection, but also this lingering terror.
Those early days were really important in my identity and who I am today. When we left the Caribbean and came to Montreal, I was about six-years-old. It was a huge shock. That was really hard.
It's only when I came to Montreal that I found out that the life that I had lived wasn't normal. My conceptions of relationships and family were challenged.
There was always a lingering feeling when we separated from my father. It wasn't explained why all of a sudden we left and my father was gone. It was all a secret. After my father passed away, we received papers from the estate, and then I saw that my father had 15 beneficiaries.
I learned my father had went out and got these really wealthy people, brought them together. Each person had their own story. My father was a master at creating a parallel world for each person. The common belief was that they were all reincarnations of important characters from ancient times. There was Moses, there was Mary Magdalene, there was Judas. Everybody had their own part to play. They believed that the end of the world was coming. I think theft also played a big role in enriching the cult. They were stealing and hiding things away to prepare for the downfall of the world. The police estimated that the theft amounted to over $100,000.
My father was romantically involved with all of the women in the cult, but all of this was kept secret. It all ended in 1982 when there began to be love triangles, and disputes became more and more intense between the members.
My mom wouldn't talk about my father. But you go out in the world, and you start watching films and reading books, and when I started hearing about symptoms of manic depression, bipolar disorder, I started thinking that sort of sounds like my father.
Read More: Are Women More Susceptoble to Cults?
When my brother was 18, he had his first psychotic episode, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I could see my father very clearly in these manic episodes that my brother was having. We're four in my immediate family, and I have two siblings who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
When I saw my siblings going through these different phases of mania and psychosis, absolutely being convinced that they were on a holy mission—like my sister at some point believed that she was Joan of Arc—these things brought me back to my father's cult and people thinking that my father was the reincarnation of Christ.
Was this a psychotic delusion? Or was this total manipulation? Was my father totally aware of what he was doing? To be completely honest, I'm not sure 100 percent which one it is. I think it could be a little bit of both.
All of a sudden I just started seeing that I had to understand who my father was, because this whole veil of secrecy that cast a shadow over my father, I felt like that was still influencing us. That was enabling my father to continue to live through us. That was scary.
I wanted to humanize my father. I disagree with everything that my father did, but it was important for me to try to find his humanity.
When my sister had her psychotic episode, I thought, I have to find out—I have to go out and find the people who were part of this cult.
Everybody was incredibly friendly, really compassionate, and they understood why I was doing what I was doing, because they had loved my father at some point in their lives. They had experienced his light but also his darkness. They could understand why I wanted to know who my father was and how that affected me, how that affected my family. It was quite powerful to meet those people and to see how my father had affected their lives.
They shared many stories. It was so surreal. It was like I could meet my father through these people, and really just put those pieces together. It's one of the highlights of my life, spending time with them and connecting. That's the thing when you grow up in a family like I grew up in—not a lot of people understand what it's like. When I spent time with them, I felt like they were family in a way, because they understood me. They had experienced this man that I came from, and all of these mixed feelings that come with that.
When I found out I had other siblings, I really wanted to set out and meet them. I wanted to understand what their lives had been like. Because I could imagine that we had similar struggles.
Like me, they grew up with single mothers, trying to build their identity with all these broken pieces. I was nervous, because I didn't know if they wanted to meet me, I didn't know if they hated me. My father had all these parallel lives, and he would set people up against each other, so I didn't know if they had heard bad things about my family.
I felt like the film gave me the courage to help build a relationship with them, and I actually interviewed most of them. Nobody hated me. Everybody was kind. The younger ones who didn't know our father have more of a tendency to hate him, because they haven't experienced him. They just hear the stories.
There are so many things that I still don't now about my father. I'm also wondering, once the film gets out there, am I going to be contacted by other siblings that we don't know about, or other wives?
Making this film really helped me understand my mother, and why she wanted to keep it all secret. I understand, she was trying to protect us.
I came as close as I'll ever be able to understand my father. I'll probably always be discovering other aspects of my father, but I think I've set it at a place, a storytelling place in my mind, where I'm comfortable with it. My father was who he was, and now I can be my own person.
Story has been edited for length and clarity.
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