One day, one thing gone

21 10 2012

What happens when you lose the one thing you thought you couldn’t live without?

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I suspect everyone has a “one thing” they consider irreplaceable.
A spouse.
A dog.
A career.
A belief.
In some instances, maybe a car.

Something you believe that, once lost, can never be replaced. And even if something ever happens to potentially take its place, there would still be such a huge gaping hole in your life that you just wouldnt be able to get over it.

For me, my one thing was my childhood home. For thirty years it was unarguably my place of comfort. No matter where I travelled in my 20s, I always has the sweet sense that I could go home anytime, finding the big, barn-like house unchanged. When I lived in Etobicoke, Toronto, surrounded by industrial buildings and drab, low-income housing, buzzed by airplanes day and night, I was comforted knowing that back home, there were green rolling hills all year round and raspberry bushes bursting with berries in spring and blackberries in summer and coyotes howling all night long. No matter how far I went and how dreary my present circumstances, that was still there.

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I carried the ideal of the farmhouse’s beauty with me everywhere. In Palestine and Israel, exploring the countryside and climbing Syrian hills, I contrasted its desert and rock-blasted landscapes with my home terrain. In Paris, I admired the layout of the arrondissements but decided I couldn’t get used to living that close to neighbours, with that little space. In Nunavut I ached with the beauty of white upon white land and seascapes, but longed for the greens of home. In China I was blown away by the Heavenly Mountains, but knew the view from my bedroom window of the distant Rockies was far more satisfying. There is nothing like travelling far to find you love best the land that you grew up exploring.

I was steeped in the farmhouse lore: how the planks for the curving staircase were once part of a dock, and its pillars, worm-ringed and knotty, had been reclaimed from a pier being torn down; that the upstairs windows came from a 100-year old Catholic church; that the original builder, a fireman, had installed a fireplace that wasn’t up to code and my parents had had to replace it.

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It wasn’t the memories of the times I’d spent there, the Christmases with family, the parties and dinners I’d hosted, that kept me attached to the old homestead. I’d had fun there, countless bonfires around which beers were consumed and cloves smoked, berries picked and thrown and baked, gardens planted and harvested, people blessed and welcomed with hospitality and joy. It was more a sense of attachment to the place itself than to what happened to me there. Perhaps you can’t distinguish one from the other. But I felt I belonged there in a way I didn’t anywhere else in the world. The landscape was part of me, and I couldn’t live without it.

Or at least that’s what I believed.

Until I was uprooted against my will, I didn’t think i could be happy anywhere else. Until I moved to a little island with a little cabin by the sea, a warm stove and a room to turn into an edit suite, I didn’t think I could call anywhere else home. At least, not three weeks after the trauma of uprooting!

But that’s exactly what happened. I lost my “one thing”, thought the world was going to end, wailed and protested at length to anyone who would listen, made a “last film”, “last canning session”, “last pie”, “last garden walk through”, “last picture”, “last cry” and I finally walked away and I was… fine.

I am absolutely still fine. In fact, I think I’m better than ever, but what has happened since walking away from the farm is another story.

The point is, I only thought I needed a homebase, and I just made myself miserable for months thinking I was losing it. The truth is, I’m an adventurer. I love to explore. I am made for travel and transplants and new root systems every few years. It was shocking, really, to see how quickly I for used to the idea of living elsewhere, of loving being elsewhere, and let the ideal I held of the farm just… go.

That’s what happened when I lost my one thing. What happened to you when you lost yours?

Comments welcome.
-te

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NFB playlists

28 02 2011

NFB playlists1
I recently spent a morning browsing the NFB’s excellent resource of film playlists. The playlists have been a feature of the new www.nfb.ca website since it launched in January 2009. Invited guests and their own staff have grouped together films around themes ranging from the powerful to the whimsical, the obvious to the obscure.

I have one conclusion…. You can get lost in there! The only way I can justify spending hours watching ten of these films at a time, is by rationalizing that it’s the duty of every young filmmaker to see the work of filmmakers that have gone before them.

Thanks to the playlists, it becomes a delightful chore. They are a useful tool for whittling down the wonderful selection of films available on the website. They also provide insight into the making-of certain films and in some cases, the historical context that otherwise would be lost to someone of my generation.

NFB Roche playlist
The NFB’s Guest Playlists include film groupings by the following people, some of whom are in-house producers and filmmakers:

* Douglas Roche: The Strength of Peace (Magnus’ film Uranium, Terry Nash’s If You Love This Planet, and Martin Duckworth’s Return to Dresden are included in this list)

* Tre Armstrong: Dance, Music and Passion

* Donald McWilliams: Norman McLaren: Hands-on Animation

* Colin Low: Recollections from a Distinguished Career

* Alanis Obomsawin: a Retrospective

* Gil Cardinal: The Aboriginal Voice

* Katerina Cizek: Manifesto for interventionist Media

* Thomas Waugh, Ezra Winton and Michael Baker: Challenge for Change

* Adam Symansky: Donald Brittain

The guest authors of their collections take one of two approaches in their selections: either they focus on a theme or a particular filmmaker. Cizek’s playlist brings together 11 films on “the philosophy and practice of ‘Art as a Hammer’.” Her picks range from 1944’s short Democracy at Work to 2008’s RiP! A Remix Manifesto.

NFB symansky playlist

Symansky’s collection brings together eight Donald Brittain films, each written up with a personal recollection of Symansky’s about the “making of” of the film. The writing alone is an invaluable resource for younger filmmakers like myself.

In the NFB’s Expert Playlists, their resident collections expert, Albert Ohayon, put together six useful lists:

* 10 Great Films from the last decade you may not have seen

* The 1960s: An Explosion of Creativity

* The 1950s: Television and the Move to Montreal

* Canada’s Diverse Cultures

* Bill Mason: Beyond the wild, beyond the paddle

And finally, the Thematic Playlists comprise almost sixty collections of films and clips, intriguing because there’s such a huge variety. Where else can you access groupings ranging from ‘Winter Sports Movies” to “Canada’s got Treasures!”?

Treasures indeed.





Storytelling from the fringe

6 12 2010

“Fringe” is a word I used to dislike very much. Maybe because I’m too conservative…? Traditional? Or maybe because I’m the kind of gal who likes to include everybody. Why should we celebrate “fringe” unless we want to practice exclusion as a society? No one should be on the fringes of community!

However, my gripe with “fringe” is possibly the very reason I’m working to become a documentary filmmaker. This is what causes me to go to those the mainstream considers “on the outside” and invite them in, by letting them tell their story to a wider audience who might not otherwise get to hear it.

Telling your story is a powerful way to invite people into your life. Through storytelling, others are invited into your conversation, and you grow into their community. Memoirs, first-person narratives, personal documentary journeys – these could all be just as easily defined as “testimonials” because they testify to where we’ve been, and who we become through the individual circumstances in our lives.

With that in mind – and because it was free, thanks UBC Dialogues! – I attended a panel discussion on “Storytelling from the Fringe” Saturday at the Whistler Film Festival. You want to hear about the juicy scoop on the films don’t you? Well, sorry to disappoint, I didn’t see a single one.

Saturday night’s film A Life Ascending directed by Stephen Grynberg was sold out, and I wasn’t into seeing the German thriller The Silence, although it looks very good. So no movies for me in Whistler, however I did go later that evening to see the striking film Fair Game in a Vancouver theatre – the fascinating account of Valerie Plame being outed as a CIA agent by the Bush administration, and the “discovery” of non-existent WMD that lead to the Iraq war.)

But here’s a good roundup of the fest. I was happy to note that the one film I would have liked to see again after watching it at Hot Docs, Marwencol, won a $2,500 documentary award for “an intimate portrait of an artist who lives between fantasy and reality and whose miniaturized world magnifies our own.”

It’s an incredible film, a fascinating portrait of an artist using toys in to-scale human dramas to deal with the psychological aftermath he lives with after receiving a vicious beating. Here’s an interview with director Jeff Malmberg.

But back to what I did see…

Documentary directors Gwen Haworth (Not Kokura and She’s a Boy I Knew), Nettie Wild (director of A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution (1988), Blockade (1993), A Place Called Chiapas (1998), and Fix: The Story of an Addicted City (2002 ) and experimental video artist Daniel Cockburn talked about their experiences in making films “from the fringe.”

In Nettie and Gwen’s case they spoke about filming subjects who are often marginalized from the mainstream, and in Daniel’s case, about his extremely experimental films which – for most people – kind of defines “fringe”, even though he himself was reluctant to subscribe to the term. I’m going to focus on what Nettie had to say because her approach is closest to the kinds of stories I want to tell. And as a sought-after mentor in documentary film who has worked the longest term of the three as a filmmaker, she has a lot of wisdom to offer.

Nettie said that every day she’s filming or editing, she has to ask herself: “Why on earth am I doing this?” She said she is aware that she comes as an outsider to her documentary subjects. Whether in the Chiapas, the Phillipines, or a relationship between a drug addict and a non-user on Vancouver’s streets, Nettie gains access to a world she doesn’t come from through trust and friendship. But it can only go so far. She knows she can only “walk alongside” these people in order to tell their story – which she describes as “high stakes dramas” – and is only allowed as deep as her subjects will take her.

The answer to her question though, is the people themselves who trust her with their stories. Because they’ve been courageous enough to open up and make themselves vulnerable to a perfect stranger, she has an obligation to fulfill, a film to make. This is also why Nettie says she works for a full year following the release of any of her films to ensure it gets as wide a distribution as possible. This is to honour her unspoken contract with her subjects: they let her into their lives and in return she works hard to bring the story to the public, right next to the blockbuster showing at Cineplex.

In Nettie’s case, it seems the “fringe” element is the classic reason documentarians exist: to bring the stories of life on the lonely edges of what we know into the light of the known and acknowledged. (There’s a new book out about Nettie and her films from Anvil Press, and a retrospective of her work will be showing January 15 – 17 at the Pacific Cinematique.)

While Nettie’s stories tend to use a linear, direct-line narrative, Daniel’s experimental videos are far from linear. It took him about 3.5 minutes to explain his latest film You are here to the audience, and even then he had to say the film never makes it clear where the story is set or how his characters are related. In his case, the unconventional mediums Daniel uses to encase his stories is the “fringe” element. (Click here for a good interview with the director about the film.)

Gwen’s perspective as a filmmaker from the fringes is very different yet again.

Her up-close and personal documentary film She’s a boy I knew is an “ethnographic autobio pic” of her family and ex-wife’s experiences and emotions as the filmmaker underwent gender reassignment from male to female. In this case, the subject matter is the fringe area.

Gwen spoke about her determination to honour the voices of those making themselves vulnerable to the camera – her father, mother, sister, best friend and ex-wife – and spoke about how she strove not to centre the film around her life as a transsexual lesbian.

I thought Gwen’s comments were powerful because the tendency in filmmaking is to focus the action on the “hero” – the classic protagonist-going-through-fire. In this case the principal actor chose to truly tell this story from the fringes, from the perspective of those around her.

So far… I have to say that compared to these folk, my storytelling from the fringes has been limited thus far. But there are a few: about a Young Man who decides to quit life on the streets and his home in a Montreal squat, a Woman whose faith goes counter to ordinary human logic as she bucks the odds and brings healing through horsemanship to the “lost children of the earth”, and a couple of Trappers in northeastern BC who love the bush and animals enough to get risk getting involved in the regulatory system around oil and gas extraction.

More on that story to come…





Industry jobs are open for former oil and gas ministry underlings

11 10 2010

The Tyee and The Public Eye report this week a third case of a senior energy, mines and petroleum resources’ ministry official going “directly from being on the province’s payroll to working for a major petroleum interest.”

Michael Lambert was a former executive director of strategic initiatives for the ministry’s oil and gas division. According to his job description, he’d been responsible for developing laws and policies to “facilitate natural gas development opportunities.” Now he’s working for Encana, a major pipeline player in northeastern B.C.

In an interview with Public Eye, Lambert said one of his principle tasks at the ministry “was working on the new Oil and Gas Activities Act’s environmental protection and management regulation. “Industry, of course, would have wanted the lightest environmental reg possible, I suppose,” he commented. “That’s not what they got.”

The former bureaucrat said he was in contact with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers during the consultation process for that regulation. But “everybody had a say and often a conflicting say,” including the natural gas producer he’s now working for: Encana Inc. Although he stressed the firm didn’t have any “undue influence.”

Lambert said cutbacks at the ministry convinced him to compete to be an environment land use planning advisor for Encana, one of several companies moving to develop British Columbia’s Horn River Basin — Canada’s largest shale gas field.” (from The Tyee and Public Eye, by Sean Holman)

Interesting, no? Or maybe it’s not a conflict of interest at all that someone would go directly from working for the government to create a new Act to regulate the oil and gas industry, to being hired by the industry itself to implement those same regulations.

I don’t know. Someone tell me I’m not seeing a plain ol’ case of regulatory capture here.

The Act itself is hardly newsworthy. Reading through it, I get the impression the OGC just wants to make doubly sure they have done due diligence in advising oil and gas companies to:

1. Communicate with “affected parties”

2. reduce to plain English the highly technical terms if their extraction processes

3. Reply to the questions and concerns of affected parties

4. Fill out the appropriate reams of paperwork to prove they have done so that….

they can get their seal of approval from the Commission and a pat on the back for all their consultative pains.

The interesting part of the new Act I found was under the “Guidelines for Consultation and Notification | October 2010.” Here, the Commission advises the Company to inform themselves of “best practices for engagement … in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ Guide for Effective Public Involvement, available at www.capp.ca.”

CAPP is "the voice of Canada's upstream oil, oil sands and natural gas industry."

 

Is the ministry/Commission/government really that involved they would actually suggest the company to check with their own lobby group’s handbook for dealing with landowners?

Who is regulating who?





The Last Great Water Fight

22 09 2010

The Mackenzie headwaters, photo by Garth Lenz

Surprise surprise… or rather it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Walrus magazine’s biggest feature this month is about the tug-of-war between the environment and industry in Canada’s great north. Water, Site C dam on the Peace, the as-yet-unspoiled Mackenzie River, Albert’s water-guzzling oilsands, the watershed of the Great Bear Lake – it’s all there.

Environmental questions are becoming ever more crystallized through the lens of human survival, rather than seen as just another hippy pastime or an earthlover’s out-of-touch plea. It’s become about whether we will be able to survive the onslaught of natural disasters that are coming as a result of our cultural love of consumption.

I read the article and wept. It already feels too late.





CAEPLA and craziness in the Peace

7 09 2010

EnCana natural gas pipeline

I think I’ll become an evangelist soon… or (God, no!!) an activist. The longer I stay in the Peace river region, the more I become infected with this crazy desire to make a movie about it. This whole sordid oil and gas mess makes me want to grab a camera and record everything – everything!

I got a chance to speak tonight to the head of CAEPLA (Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations), Dave Core, and I’m thankful – and blown away – by the scope he brings to the picture. I’ve been talking to farmers and landowners and trappers all around Farmington, Fort St. John, Rolla and Dawson Creek for a little under two weeks now, and while the stories are consistent and troubling, I didn’t have a holistic view of what is happening, and why, until we spoke.

Dave has been involved with a number of precedent-setting cases where a little group of landowners concerned for their land stood up to Big Oil and Gas and the National Energy Board, and won. They didn’t stop development on their land altogether – they’re not anti-development – but they did win some decent concessions that forced the oil and gas companies to acknowledge that landowners deserve to be treated fairly.

Dave told me enough stories and case studies that I feel more up to speed on what has been happening across the country. What concerns this post though, is how bad things are up in northeastern B.C., and if you believe the man who’s been fighting for responsible development for twenty years, according to him it’s as bad as it could get up here. Or worse.

Class 1 farmland, in the BC Peace River region

  • Ontario farmers and landowners at least have the rights to the minerals under their dirt. B.C. landowners don’t have a right to anything other than topsoil or the clay beneath it.
  • The land is actually not theirs to be held in total privacy because, at any time, a seismic imaging crew or a surveyor can come on your land to check it out, and you can’t turn them away.
  • If they find something under that dirt, you can bet a land agent will be at your door, or will start hassling you on the phone, until you sign something that gives the oil or gas company unfettered access to your land.
  • Once a pipeline is in, you can’t move a tractor, a lawnmower, or a bicycle over the line without getting permission from the company.
  • In some cases, they will take up 30 metres on either side of the pipe, in addition to the easement area of 18 metres for a total of 96 metres around that pipe, for however many hundreds of feet it takes up on your land, and you can’t do anything to it. No farming, no haying, no planting.
  • If the company currently taking up space on your land decides to deactivate the pipeline, they simply stop the flow of gas, and leave the pipe in your dirt. To rot. Or possibly cave in. Forever.
  • And if you damage that pipeline for any reason, you’re responsible. You pay. And if you hurt yourself on it, you’re equally liable.

So what does a farmer get for all this inconvenience, for a devalued piece of shit land that now he may not be able to pass on to his grandkids because it’s worthless or contaminated?
Nope, not royalties for the oil or gas passing through those pipes.

Nor a share of the bounty, which in B.C. amounted to $98 million in bonus bids IN AUGUST ALONE, bringing the total of land lease sales to oil and gas companies to $760 million for 2010 so far.

The average farmer might get a few thousand dollars, maybe $6,000, maybe $8,000, as a one-time payout for a lifetime of inconvenience and grief.

The government just announced it’s throwing some more money at the oil and gas companies – $115 million to build roads and infrastructure in underdeveloped areas specifically for oil and gas use. You know what that tells me? More wilderness thuggery, more dead animals, more expansion into B.C.’s bush and watershed.

The more I hear about how this land is being sold up the creek for a few million bags of gold (need to pay off the Olympics much, Mr. Campbell?)…

the more I hear about landowners being flat out lied to by land agents who come to their doors, uninvited, pressuring them to sign contracts that will strip the last of the few rights they have to their land…

the more I hear about out-of-province workers being brought in to do oil and gas work – labour that was promised to the citizens of these towns and villages….

the more I see of the bad roads, high gas and diesel prices, dead deer and moose from the ridiculous number of speeding truckers, driving back from some remote jobsite and eager to get back to the bar and raise hell…

the more I hear… (I just can’t believe what I’m hearing, but these are not the kind of people that would lie to you…)

the more I hear…

the more you’ll hear about it, because it’s not the kind of tiny-potatoes issue I could ignore.





Oh, and for the double blogging joy this week…

7 09 2010

My interview with Kevin McMahon is up on Magnus’ blog Documentary Field Notes and Flash Points today.

If you’ve linked here from there, congratulations, you are a true clicking Jedi.

If you haven’t checked out Magnus’ blog then I strongly urge you to, not just because I assist him with it, but because it’s got some brilliant topics you’re gonna love.

And this week, you should check it out especially just cuz, well, you know. I interviewed a real, live filmmaker and THAT IS PRETTY COOL.

Peace out.

After a long ride to Loyola, my *beloved* Montreal campus, last fall, I was wet. I took a picture. I may not look so pretty and friendly next time we meet, so I thought you should see this.