When Regis Tremblay was growing up in Maine in the 1940’s and 50's, he had no idea how far life would take him, and he could not have imagined the adventures that awaited him thousands of miles away from his little hometown of Waterville.
Now an award-winning documentary filmmaker at the age of 78, living in Crimea, Russia, Regis sat down with me on Skype in early April and told me his entire life story. Because of a month-long illness which hit me right around the time of the interview, I was unable to write the kind of article his story deserves until now. You can watch the entire, unedited, raw interview here. I apologize for my gravelly voice and some audio feedback.
In 1959, like many American boys in the 8th grade, Regis dreamed of being an athlete. He loved playing hockey, baseball, football and other sports. In those years, not long after the end of WW2, life was good for many Americans. Those who had returned from the war, thanks to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (widely known as the G.I. Bill) could afford to build their own homes, raise a family, and live comfortable lives. Like others in his family, Regis probably would have got a job at the local mill.
That is, if not for a postcard that arrived in the mail one day.
“During that year,” Regis recalls, “the Carmelite priests in Hamilton, Massachusetts, sent out a little postcard and sent it to all the Catholic schools, and I was in a Catholic school, saying return this for more information. And I did. And surprisingly enough, the priest, who was a recruiter, came to my town in Maine! Well, that impressed me. And he invited me to go to a one-week-long event in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where they had their Carmelite minor seminary. They had minor seminaries in those days. And that was during the summer. And I thought, ‘Well, that would be cool.’”
The Carmelite recruiters did their job well. When Regis saw the school in Hamilton, he was blown away.
“It played to everything a lot of young guys loved in those days with sports,” he says. “They had a swimming pool. We had a recreational room with everything from shuffleboard to ping pong to television. There was a huge study hall that they told us that this is where we would do our homework, and anyway we got a tour of the whole building, and it was great. So, I decided to go there, and I went there for four years.”
After high school in Hamilton, Regis went on to the Carmelite College in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where the Carmelites had been busy for more than a century. The college campus where Regis was to spend the next four years was graced by a handsome, four-story granite building.
“And in my last year of college, one of the freshmen started a fire in an alcove on the 4th floor and burned half of the building down. It was very traumatic for a lot of the seminarians that were there, a couple hundred at the time. And I survived it without losing anything. I had moved my room to somewhere else that wasn’t burned.”
After graduation, many of his classmates were sent to Washington, DC, to continue studying theology. Other seminarians were sent out to work in the Catholic Church’s various ministries, or to work in high schools across the country. But the Carmelite Order had special plans for Regis.
“I was the only one from my class that was sent to Rome to study theology,” Regis remembers. Though he was not sent to the Vatican itself, he was just a stone’s throw away from the Church-governed city-state and he spent the next four years at the Pontifical Gregorian Institute, a Vatican university that drew students from all over the world — seminarians from various religious orders and dioceses.
“And the idea is that they would be acclimated to Rome and all of the politics and many of these guys would become bishops, and several popes had gone to the Gregorian University,” Regis explains.
But he didn’t teach theology. “Ironically, the journalism teachers and the yearbook teachers had been fired. And I had complained that you can’t do away with yearbooks and newspaper. You know the school is 35 years old and this is a historical record.”
The school principal, also a Carmelite, agreed to let Regis teach journalism. “So, I started teaching yearbook journalism and photojournalism,” he recalled. “I also coached the state championship golf team. I got to play golf for free every year because I was the golf coach, so it was six really good years.”
Regis believes that teaching journalism set him on the trajectory to become the accomplished filmmaker he is now. “I loved media. I love storytelling,” he explains.
But after six years of teaching journalism, he was sent back to Phoenix to teach theology. This happened, he says, because he had been elected as the Prior, the Superior, of a large community of men in Tucson for two terms, and the Carmelites didn’t want an outgoing Superior to serve under their new Superior. So he taught theology in Phoenix for another three years and after that, he left the Church because he objected to its hierarchical structure and the way the Vatican used its power and money.
“And I also had problems with sticking to the accepted dogma and doctrine of the church,” he recalls, “and as a theologian, I found that to be not possible.”
It was now the mid-1980’s, and after his exodus from the Church, Regis got married and had three kids. “Today, they’re all grown and they’re in their mid-30s. I now have 5 grandchildren,” he says.
He remained in Arizona for a total of 34 years, raising his family, and then, finally, he returned home to Maine. By now it was 2006 and his oldest child, his daughter, was in college. He had divorced his wife, and he was living with his two sons.
“So, anyway, while I was in Maine, I ended up getting a job with the state of Maine, and I was the Director of Public Information at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It was a great job.”
He worked there for four years and learned the ropes of video production, making videos to promote the department. “The biologists, the game wardens, the people who are in the fisheries. And so, anyway, I began learning how to produce video and I had a good budget and I had really good cameras at the time. I had a really good studio setup. But, as happens in government, there was a change in the governor’s administration due to an election. The new governor came in and appointed a director of this department who had other ideas.”
“And so, I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to leave on my own. You’ll have to fire me,’” because Regis knew he couldn’t collect unemployment insurance if he resigned voluntarily. It was during this time of pseudo-retirement, while he was just getting by financially, that Regis began his career as a filmmaker.
“I started documenting,” he says, “the Occupy movement, environmental movements and protests. I created, with two other fellows, the Occupy Maine TV show, the first in the country, on Portland’s community access station. We did one show a month for 11 months until Occupy was summarily wiped out, thanks to Barack Obama, all across the country, over a weekend.”
But Occupy Wall Street was only the beginning. Regis’ filmmaking career was just taking off, and his biggest adventures were still ahead. One day in 2011, he went to see a close friend of his, an activist named Bruce Gagnon, who had just returned from Jeju Island in South Korea.
“And he said, ‘I need to find three people to go to Jeju,’” Regis recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, I’ll go.’ And he said, ‘Well, will your wife let you?’ And I said, ‘No problem there.’ I already had a passport.”
Three weeks later, Regis was on a plane to Seoul, bound for Jeju Island where the indigenous people had been protesting for five years. The trip changed his life forever. “I thought I was gonna go there to make maybe a 15-minute, short video about a five-year-long, 24/7 protest against the construction of a large naval base in Gangjeong Village, a small farming and fishing village, to accommodate Obama’s pivot to Asia. It was going to accommodate American warships, aircraft carriers, missile destroyers and submarines.”
After the end of World War II, with the defeat of Imperial Japan, the Koreans thought they had been liberated from their Japanese occupiers. But the people of Jeju were fighting against a new oppressor which had taken control of their government and their military in 1945. A country that claimed to bring democracy and freedom, but in reality, was bent on destroying the pristine ecology of Jeju Island and ruining the lives of the indigenous people who fished in its waters and farmed its lands.
“Well, the people on this small island of Jeju were all peasants,” Regis remembers. “They were not armed. They had sticks and stones, they had spears, and this is all they had. But they rose up, they rose up in large numbers to protest the US occupation.”
When the protest had first begun, the Pentagon had viewed it with suspicion, assuming it was a communist uprising, and in 1946 they had sent in American advisors, and Korean militias, to put down the revolt and prove to Washington who was in charge. “So, what happened in the period of 1946 and 1947,” Regis says, “as many as 30- to 40,000 peasants were massacred on this island. All of this had been highly classified, both in the United States and in South Korea.”
On top of the mass murder of indigenous people which had begun on April 1st, 1946, there was also a strict rule against speaking of it. Anyone who spoke out risked execution. So the people bore their suffering in silence for decades. Until Regis arrived in 2011. “So anyway, I got there and I started hearing people talking about ‘ghosts.’ And there were these burial mounds all over Jeju Island. And I thought, ‘what is this?’ And they said, ‘Well, this is where people are buried.’
Regis was shocked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. So, just before he left for home, he stopped at the April First Peace Museum on the north side of Jeju Island. “And I went in there, and there it was all documented with archival material, with archival movie films, okay? From back at that period of time. They had pictures and an incredible exposition. And I was filled with anger and I started to cry. I couldn’t believe what my government had done there. And I… I almost didn’t know what to think, but I was so moved emotionally that I thought, ‘My God. This is not about a little protest. What I have discovered here has never been told.’”
Regis shared this with a friend who was a former Associated Press reporter, who had spent time in Korea. “He told me, ‘You don’t realize what you’ve stumbled upon. You need to tell this! You need to tell this story.’ So I returned home. And I was really troubled. Very troubled. I had all of this material that I shot. And the curator of the museum in Jeju City…he agreed to send me archival material, which I included in the film. I realized I needed to learn more and I went with my youngest son to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and did more research over a couple of days. More pictures, more corroborating video.”
Everything was there, just waiting to be discovered by someone who cared enough to look. And that someone was Regis Tremblay. Fresh back from Jeju Island, he had just begun to learn the truth about the United States. He watched the film, Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space, which was produced by Denis Delestrac and promoted by his friend Bruce Gagnon, and an eerie, dark image of the future began to form in his mind.
“And I got ahold of that film, and I learned so much about America’s plan for full spectrum dominance of the planet on land, on the seas, in the air, in the space above. And I went, ‘Oh my God. I’m starting to connect the dots here.’ You know what happened at Jeju Island in 1946 was a plan, and the beginning of a plan…”
The United States had emerged from WW2 as a global superpower. With much of Europe in ruins, only the Soviet Union was perceived as a rival in the quest for global dominance. And the US had already sent a clear message to Stalin with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “We have nukes. We won’t shy from bombing civilian targets. And you might be next!” The Cold War was already underway, and Jeju Island was just another platform for US military dominance in Asia.
“Well, what had happened to me is my eyes were opened about what my country had been doing not since 1946, but since 1492, when the white colonial ‘discoverers’ came to this continent and started to massacre Native Americans in North and South and Central America. They stole, they stole land and resources. And they stole labor. That was what slavery was all about. And the Monroe Doctrine, when it came into force, continued this stealing and genocide of land, resources, and labor. It continues to this day. Well, this blew my mind. My undergraduate degree was in the United States history. We never learned any of this stuff. We just learned history written by the victor, and America was always the good guy. America was the victor. America was all about spreading freedom and democracy around the world.”
Freedom and democracy, as it turned out, was just another fable. “Well, this whole myth, or lie, exploded,” Regis recalls. “And I was having a hard time dealing with this, because now I was working on this film and dealing with all of this information that I had been gathering and learning for the first time. Well, long story short, I included most of this, almost all of it in the film, The Ghosts of Jeju.”
You can watch The Ghosts of Jeju here. “In this film I interviewed people like Oliver stone,” Regis continues. “I interviewed Bruce Gagnon. I interviewed several other people — authors, journalists and experts, to corroborate, to lend credibility to the story that I was telling. Well, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really going to be great.’ I applied to 21 film festivals in the United States that year, 2012. It was ignored by 20. Ignored. I mean, they didn’t even respond. They took the money that you need to register.”
It turned out that the world was not as open to learning the truth as Regis had been. But he didn’t allow that to discourage him. He focused on the Chicago Peace on Earth Festival, the one festival which had accepted his film and even given him a major award.
“Well, that was nice. Made me feel good. It actually was kind of a springboard,” he says. “But, I contacted the Hollywood studios. I tried to find an agent. And could not. Because the film was such an exposé of America’s evil and wrongdoing since the beginning of this country. So they were not interested in this.”
Regis knew he was going to have to do a lot of footwork to ensure that his film was seen. With the help of Bruce Gagnon and others in the peace movement, he began contacting various peace groups around the country. “And I started the first of two cross-country trips with this film, The Ghosts of Jeju, and I would go to each location starting on the East Coast, going across the Midwest to California, and then back.”
He was retired and he didn’t have the kind of money he needed to do this. But he managed to secure funding from donations. Every place he went, he offered people DVDs of his film, and they donated enough money to get him to his next stop.
“Now in that process, two things were amazing,” he recalls, “Even if people couldn’t afford a five-dollar, ten-dollar, twenty-dollar donation, I said, ‘Take the film for free. Promise me you’re going to share it with as many people as you can.’ So the film started to get around. Virally. You know, not on-the-Internet-today viral, but through people.”
And everywhere the film was screened, Regis held a question and answer session afterwards, where people could meet him and talk about what they had seen. “It was incredible. Nobody was attacking me for what I said. Everybody was just emotionally struck by the film. Many people cried.”
He traveled across the entire country twice, getting by on whatever people gave him. And in the following years, the film started appearing overseas, in England, France, and Spain. The South Koreans screened the film all around their country. As of today, The Ghosts of Jeju has been translated into 7 languages including Russian and Mandarin. And all that work was done by volunteers.
In 2015, Regis began working on another film, Thirty Seconds to Midnight, which explores the fear of a nuclear confrontation between the US and Russia. “And, in order to finish this film, I thought, ‘Will I have to go to Russia to find out for myself what Russia is really like?’ Because by now I was not believing anything coming from the United States.”
Once again, fate seemed to pave the way for Regis and he was invited along with two other American friends, Bruce Gagnon and Philip Wilayto, to travel to Russia and Ukraine. All of their expenses were paid by their hosts, a group of mothers who had lost loved ones in the 2014 Odessa Massacre, when 48 people were beaten, shot, raped, or burned alive by neo-Nazis, as they took refuge inside the Union Trade Hall building.
Regis recalls how they visited the site of that atrocity in 2016, on its May 2nd anniversary, with a group of international journalists: “Again, my eyes were opened. I saw Nazis. I saw right-wing extremists. They threw rocks at our bus.”
After visiting Odessa, Regis was invited to attend the May 9th Victory Parade in Moscow. The annual event commemorates the allied victory over Nazi Germany, and includes the March of the Immortal Regiment, in which the descendants of allied WW2 veterans parade through Moscow and other cities, carrying portraits of those who fought. Though some WW2 veterans still join in the March, there are fewer of them every year. But any country which fought against the Nazis is welcome to take part, and even the US sent representatives in 2010, during a lull in the Cold War.
Again, all expenses were paid and Regis visited not only Moscow, but St. Petersburg, and then — Crimea. “And I went to Crimea because I had to find out for myself the truth about Crimea returning to Russia. Again, my eyes were opened. I met many people. I interviewed people. I interviewed them about everything from Preside Putin, is he a dictator, is he an assassin? I interviewed people about LGBTQ rights, gay marriage. I interviewed them about all kinds of topics, and I made a short film about that.”
In 2017, 30 Seconds to Midnight was released, and once again, Regis traveled cross-country, screening the film “and it started going crazy. People were loving it. I showed it at the National Convention of the Veterans for Peace organization in the United States. Standing ovation, it was packed. There was no other talk or event during that entire conference that was packed like those that saw my film. The banquet on the last night was delayed because people would not leave the film screening…”
Regis made two more trips to Russia, in 2018 and 2019, with the Center for Citizens Initiative, founded by Sharon Tennyson. “Anyway, I had the opportunity to travel not just to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Crimea, but the many other larger cities, towns and villages in remote areas. So I got to see a lot more of Russia and met a lot more people from different regions of Russia. Again, interviewing them and documenting everything that I found and I learned.”
He made several more videos of these visits, some of which are on his YouTube channel (Regis’ original channel on YouTube was deleted without warning, so now he is busy uploading his life’s work to his new channel, which he operates under a pseudonym).
“And then, 2019 came along,” he recalls. “And I was working on putting the Russian subtitles on The Ghosts of Jeju. And I had thought, ‘You know, I can’t afford to live here in the state of Maine, in the United States, anymore.’ My car, which was a used car, it was a nice Subaru, it served me well for several years. Well, with those harsh Maine winters and the salt they put on the roads, the car rusted out and I could no longer get it approved and registered. I couldn’t afford even another old clunker for a couple thousand dollars.”
It was then that he decided to make Russia his new home. “And so I thought, you know, the years I’ve been going to Russia, I’ve been doing my due diligence, really. Well, what’s it like to live here? How much would it cost to live here? I know what my pension was, very small Social Security, two very small pensions from stints in the Maine government and Arizona government. And I thought, you know, I think I can probably make it there. And so I decided that I would pull up stakes and I would move to Yalta in the Crimea. And that was in March of 2020, one week before the lockdown, the closing of borders because of COVID-19.”
Now Regis has been living in Yalta, on the Crimean Peninsula, for three years. And he has no regrets. “I have never been as busy as these days have been, ever in my life, but certainly in my filmmaking life. I do sometimes five or six video podcasts a day, on a program that is called Dateline: News and Conversation. I do that under the banner of the ‘Friends of Crimea.’ I also did several hundred shows on another video platform that I called ‘Global Conversations.’ And in both of these shows, I interview people from around the world. Experts, academics, politicians, journalists, activists, people with a great deal of expertise, even though they are not lettered. And these have become quite popular, but they keep me very busy.”
When he isn’t busy filming and editing, Regis explores his new home with a Russian interpreter he has befriended, who also works as a professional guide. “I have been exposed to life in Crimea like no one,” he says. “I have been to ancient Greek archaeological ruins dating back to the 7th century BC. I’ve learned about their wine making here, how they lived. I’ve been to several museums that have thousands of artifacts from this period of time. I’ve learned about the different empires from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire to the Russian Empire that have taken control of Crimea. I have been exposed to historical sites from the Crimean War, in around 1885–86 I think, World War One, World War Two where Crimea was devastated. Especially World War Two, when the Nazis came and it was a siege for, I think, almost a year where thousands and thousands of people died.””
The 2015 Russian film, Battle for Sevastopol, which I have translated into English, tells the story of that siege and is also a biographical story about the Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who killed 309 Nazis.
“And I’ve been exposed to the culture, to the literature,” Regis continues. “I’ve even been to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. There were tickets provided by the Friends of Crimea Association as part of a conference I attended last year. I was sitting in the 2nd row center aisle right above the orchestra pit. And I saw the Bolshoi Ballet. I’ve been to concerts, I’ve been to lots of civic and social activities. I’ve been to conferences and I’ve documented all of this.”
And the whole purpose of all his travels in Russia, and all the videos and films he has made, “has been to try to show to Americans, my friends, the many disbelievers, the truth that I have discovered about Russia and Crimea. And so this basically has been my focus. It’s the story of my life, really.”
At the age of 78, Regis looks back on a life of travel and adventure. “I made several trips down through the Asian Pacific to Japan, Okinawa, Korea, the Marshall Islands. I’ve traveled all across Europe and been to Russia. It’s been an incredible journey that looks like a zigzag, but as I look back on it, it’s all connected. And it makes sense. And none of it could I have ever planned back in 1959 or 1972, or 2006 or 2012. I don’t know what it is that led me on this journey, but Jeju Island and that experience set my life, changed my life, and set it on the present trajectory that I’m on today.”
His family and friends have not always understood, or agreed, with Regis’ choices. But his children still love him, even if they don’t always see eye to eye. Two of his sons served in the US armed forces. His eldest was a Green Beret who recently retired from service on full medical disability due to a combat-related injury. But he learned Russian during the time he was enlisted, and his eyes are open to at least some things.
“The oldest son,” Regis recalls, “when we talked about what’s going on in Ukraine, United States and Russia, he said, ‘Dad, the politics and the politicians in the United States are all corrupt. The top command. They’re all yes-men.’ They don’t get there unless they say ‘yes’ to whoever it is. Obama, you know, Clinton, Bush and now, what’s-his-face. Senile old Joe Biden.”
But many of Regis’ childhood friends and old classmates from the seminary have dropped out of his life over the years. “All but three of us are left. And we’ve been in contact over the last few years, and I’m afraid that most of them have been, have swallowed the Kool-aid. And they look at me as a Russian propagandist. A Putinista. A traitor.”
As all of those who court the truth understand, this is the price you pay. But Regis prefers to focus on those whose minds are open. “I really do believe that people that are like me, who are searching for the truth in a country of lies and trying to expose that, we’re all doing the same thing in our own way. Trying to educate and open the eyes of our countrymen as to the truth about the United States and its endeavors, its actions, its interventions, since the very beginning.”
As for organized religion, Regis doesn’t miss it. “I guess I’m an atheist,” he observes. “Or an agnostic. I don’t deny that there’s a force in the universe. And I’m a trained theologian. I swallowed the whole thing, hook, line, and sinker. But, over the years, I began to reexamine all of it. And it just didn’t make sense. And, what I do believe, and I follow in my life is, I believe in the radical Jesus. I believe in his message of love and forgiveness, Period. There was nothing else. He didn’t create a church. He didn’t invent the dogma. He didn’t invent the rules. Those were all created years and centuries later by men.”
For Regis, religion is just another lie that he had to unlearn. “It was the same kind of awakening that happened to me with the discovery that I had about the United States of America and what it really is. The same kind of awakening happened with this whole idea of religion. Now, I have to tell you this, in all sincerity: Religion, in my opinion, is about control and population manipulation, it’s always been.”
He respects other people’s religious beliefs while privately keeping his distance from churches, though he does attend the occasional Russian Orthodox service. “I have to say this as a former Catholic priest, their liturgies are incredible, but way too long for me,” he says. “But they’re incredible. The singing, the chants, the incense, the participation of the people.”
As our interview drew to a close, I asked Regis what he would say to those who are just beginning their journey of understanding. “The only thing that I could offer for advice,” he replied, “is you’ve gotta stop paying attention to authority. You’ve gotta stop paying attention to your mainstream media. You’ve gotta stop paying attention to those who teach you in high school and in college. And, you’ve got to learn to do your own research.”
As governments around the world, including the US government, continue to take away our freedoms one by one, Regis cherishes one freedom they can never take.
“Question everything,” he counsels. “And learn to think for yourself. And not what somebody else tells you to think. And that’s freedom, that for me has been freedom. That for me has been liberation.”
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