New images of the horses for orphans project

7 12 2010

As we continue to put this story together, I’ve clipped some more images from the amazing footage we captured at last March.

— All images from footage shot by Charlotte Gentis

Trappers, beavers, farmers and gas, oh my.

15 11 2010

Nice beaver carcass (still intact). Still from footage shot by T. Elliott

I had a thrilling and productive time during my trip last week to Northeastern BC as I researched a couple of stories.

One priority was to firm up details about a project we’re doing for the B.C. Trapper’s Association, which ended with the predictable result that instead of talking turkey (and dollars and cents), we ended up filming a few sessions of beaver/otter/fox-pelting instead. (What’s the point of talking with the camera off, anyway?)

The beaver skinning and the otter fleshing-out were graphic, but I was OK with it. Mostly. But the fox being skinned out almost made me revisit my excellent dinner of elk meat I’d eaten earlier that night. Apart from that, I got to film a snare-tying workshop with the Fort St. John Trappers, and on my last day in the north, a mercy killing of muskrats who would have starved to death in a slowly freezing pond in Dawson Creek. Altogether, a bush education to whip the city-smarts right out of me!

The other story is bittersweet for me. I was privileged to attend the arbitration hearing of a local farmer who is refusing to settle with a gas company in the matter of compensation for their use of his land. The matter is about a year old since they already put the pipeline through his property in Fall 2009, thanks to an order for right of entry from the Surface Rights Board.

Objectively, it was a fascinating glimpse into the process that grinds through every layer of community and industry when a culture experiences a massive economic shift from one resource base to another. We’ve already witnessed it poignantly here in B.C. with the decline of the softwood lumber industry, and we’re seeing it again as oil and gas replaces agriculture as the most lucrative product out of BC’s Northeast. Personally however, it was hard to witness firsthand what happens to the people who get caught in the middle of that process. Progress must be allowed, but for those still using the technology of the last resource boom, it’s a hard time of adjustment.

Wheat field near Fort St John, BC

This land is no longer valued as BC’s breadbasket (the fact that it ever was would take most people south of Prince George by surprise.) Month by month, revenues increase from natural gas exploration and drilling in the north, as the earlier generation of resource extraction, agricultural use of the land, gradually loses its value.

The shifting resource hierarchy can be described by a term land assessors use to evaluate it: “highest and best use.” According to BC Assessment’s glossary, Highest and Best Use means: that reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, legally permissible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value. (Appraisal of Real Estate 2nd Canadian Edition, 2002)

It basically means that land will be assessed according to its most lucrative utility. Whether that’s a BC Hydro substation replacing a corn field, or a quarter section of marginal quality farmland being leased to a gas drilling company, the shifting priorities of the burgeoning population require that the land use changes along with it. In the south of B.C. in the populous Fraser Valley where I live, you can already see the change in the landscape as farms in the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) are gobbled up and rezoned for residential and commercial use. (Another post on another day about issues with the ALR itself in the north – a citizen’s movement would see it abolished entirely in the regional districts east of the Rockies.)

And now, the same thing is happening in the north of B.C. that has already happened to many parts of Alberta. “Highest and best use” no longer applies to land solely for farming and agriculture, but more and more, it perfectly defines oil and gas activities.

As we all know, the world is looking for a source of energy that’s cheaper and less damaging than oil. “Dirty oil” is impugned for causing wars, sickness, pollution, crippled economies, foreign government takeovers, and basically, just about the total decimation of life on planet Earth as we know it. But with more advanced technology, we’ve tapped another resource that has lain dormant for thousands of years: natural gas. Trapped in shale rock, the gas has been waiting for generations for the right technology to release it so it can be transformed into electricity and consumer products, a relatively clean burning fuel that can heat homes, drive cars and cook food.

Perhaps it’s a simple matter of priorities. Do we want bread, or to heat our houses and use electricity?

Or are there other options that we’re simply not looking at hard enough?

Burning Water and a Fracking Disaster in the Making

19 10 2010

I am getting redundant on the subject of water and fracking, I know, I know. But if you think I’m repetitive, try watching the news just for one day.

Today I got a thorough reminder about why I get so angry with how we exploit our natural resources in B.C.

Tonight on CBC’s the Passionate Eye, I watched an excellent doc “Burning Water” (link to video online here) about the effects of fracking on local water supplies – in this case, in Rosebud Alberta. Produced by Frederic Bohbot and directed by Cameron Esler and Tadzio Richards, the film follows the nightmare of one Alberta family whose tap water can be lit on fire because there’s so much methane in it. They think EnCana contaminated their aquifer by drilling into it for methane. Like so many farmers in Northeastern BC, the Lauridsens came to the wide open spaces to farm, and live in peace and quiet, but what they end up having to live with is beyond anything we can imagine.

Scene from the recent HBO documentary about natural gas drilling: "Gasland" by Josh Fox.

Also, I’m reading/following Andrew Nikiforuk‘s work. It kind of makes it hard to sleep at night. The Calgary journalist is a thorn in oil and gas industry’s collective side as he’s written extensively about the “Dirty Secrets” in the tar sands. His book “Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent” came out in 2008. He’s also currently the Tyee’s writer-in-residence and just wrote an excellent article about the unbelievable rate we’re sucking up water to get natural gas out of the bedrock. Read it here: A Fracking Disaster in the Making.

I’m not even going to get into Quebec’s shale gas fight, except to say Hurrah! They are at least holding public hearings to look into the impacts of drilling for shale gas. BEFORE they start drilling.

Maybe they’re learning from BC’s largely silent, suffering farmers, that it’s better to force the government to look before it leaps to take everyone down the same merrily burning path.

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.

So long and thanks for all the fish…

5 07 2010

That is the inimitable line from one of Douglas Adam‘s Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy books (I think it’s the fourth in a trilogy of five). My brother Matthew is reading it right now, and it’s a trip down memory lane to pick it up again and dive with childlike delight into one of Adams’ weirdly constructed paragraphs about Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent’s excellent adventures. No one writes like Adams. If you’ve never read it and have any sort of a sense of humour at all, you might consider picking one of his books up for fun. Just leave the custard and sperm whales behind because they tend to get damaged on these trips.

But I digress.

Mist rises from the Niagara Falls high above the constant crowds. We "digressed" with a side trip there so my brother could see the Falls for the first time before heading out West for real.

I feel I’m going back in time because I’m on yet another road trip across the continent. My sixth. One could argue this many trips in ten years is un de trop, but I never get tired of road trips. It’s for a good cause: I need lots of time to think about my reasons for heading back to my native land, British Columbia, after 12 years living and working in Toronto and Montreal, to start my own documentary production company.

Sounds grand doesn’t it? And it is, until you consider the current production climate working directors et al. are suffering though. I believe Canada will fare better than most, although worse than we would have done without Harper at the helm, but still I get the sweats thinking about it.

Why am I starting a production company at this particular time? What am I, a woman of 31 years of age with virtually no field experience, doing, entering this industry at this point in time? When many esteemed directors, producers, sound techs and videographers are grasping for any work they can find? Why?

No one yet knows how to make money from webdocs. No one can figure out distribution figures when everything is being given away for free, and the consumers are now trained to expect everything to be free. No one has figured out how – aside from going to those excellent institutions the NFB/ONF and SODEC and the like – how to get money to make a film. And the only people who are getting THAT kind of money are the already working filmmakers, those who have produced at least two or three decently well-regarded films, and even THEY are having trouble getting the funds together.

I should be running straight back for the hills of Montreal, begging someone for an internship in network TV and moonlighting at McKibbon’s bar, praying there will be a job in 3-5 years when some reporter finally releases their white-knuckled grip on their job and moves on. But I’m heading out West to start editing our first project, a mini-doc about an encounter between Brazil’s orphans and a natural horsewoman.

Why? Because in spectacularly depressing scenarios like this, when everything media-related has been thrown against the wall and all the rules have changed, people can create their own opportunities. I have faith that starting out in the middle of chaos puts everyone on a level field. Chaos even creates an advantage for those who have nothing better to do than grab the tail of opportunity and see what corner they will be whipped around next. I believe that the current climate we’re living through is the most exciting, terrifying, thrilling, open-source, open-ended, adventurous time we’ve seen since New Wave met mullet hairdos. I think that if anyone can tackle this new environment, it’s those people like me, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by jumping in now.

Tobi has finally found her true function: Amy Minksy holds up the Tobi clothes steamer.

This is a time for the pioneers and time-shapers, the innovators and inventors, the experimenters and the agitators… and the young. I may qualify in only the last category, but that’s good enough for me.

But in the meantime, on the scenic route to the exciting new world of starting a production company in the midst of all this chaos, I’m stuck inside a beige-themed RV, doing nothing much without access to the Internet.

Our trip west is taking the molasses-slow route. With two excellent drivers on board, Matt and my Dad (who never lets me forget that I’ve wrecked 4 cars in a total of 8 accidents) who don’t let me take the wheel for anything, I’m doing a lot of reading. 

Since we left Montreal a week ago I’ve already finished one ENTIRE novel – what a luxury! – Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, and I’m starting Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle – the first-time-ever-issued uncensored edition. Other pieces of note: the latest issue of Maisonneuve magazine that features some heavy reading (AI, Singularity theory and the end of humanity) and heavy breathing (how one copy writer almost ended up writing excerpts for hard-core porn videos.)

So long, and see you on the other side.

How beautiful is Canada, hey?

Rideau Hall and the photojournalist who didn’t save her pictures

3 07 2010

Savika Fowsar and I at the Michener Awards gala last May at Rideau Hall.

This is the single photo I have from a Gala dinner at Rideau Hall on May 27, 2010. I was invited, along with another journalism grad to witness the awarding of the Michener prize for public service journalism [Linda Gyulai of The Montreal Gazette won for her coverage of corruption in Montreal’s civic politics.]

After taking almost 150 photos of the magnificent Hall, Her Excellency the Governor-General (from a distance), the grounds, the people, the security detail, the food, portraits and rooms, I deleted them from my camera before transferring them to my computer.

I’m sure you can imagine the howl of anguish when I found out. I haven’t posted about the event until now because I was so mad at myself for losing those photos. I know better… I always check… I usually check….

Except this one time. I had thought I had transferred them but evidently didn’t, and in my haste to cover the signing of the Aboriginal Education accord for The Eastern Door, I deleted the pictures. The Accord signing was a great event, but of course the Michener awards dinner was a huge highlight for me. I really regret not having those pictures.

However, what’s done is done. I’ll learn from this and never, ever delete photos without checking my hard drive first.

Stories to come..

26 06 2010

I have been extremely remiss in keeping this blog up to date. Not because nothing has been happening, but because… because…

I don’t know.

I guess I’m working on other people’s blogs more than my own! Ha! More on that to come.

I hereby promise to write more regularly and be faithful to my reading public...

In the month+ since the last update I have managed to:

– attend a fancy dinner at Rideau Hall to witness the awarding of the Michener prize for journalism [Linda Gyulai of The Montreal Gazette won for her coverage of corruption in Montreal’s civic politics.] Pics to come.

– finish my three year degree at Concordia University, which took a really circutiuous 5 years, and sit through the correspondingly long convocation ceremony. [The President of Concordia managed to fit into her address a justification for the perpetually broken escalators in the 12-storey Hall building. Something to do with, “We built a brand-new building for the business school, c’mon.” Which is great for business students but not so much for the poli sci and the rest of the student population stuck walking up those escalator stairs in the Hall building.]

Pomp and Circumstance, which I endured fairly well thanks to texting and Twitter.

– assist documentary filmmaker Magnus Isacsson put together proposals seeking funding for some of his upcoming projects. [Learning the art of pitching, writing one-sheets, and arguing the merits of a story you need to know inside and out before you shoot or write a frame.]

– interview documentary filmmaker Kevin McMahon about interactive online docs vs. traditional longform films. [Managed to insult him mildly by referring to his work-in-progress as having to do with nuclear energy, instead of nuclear weapons. The interview will appear on Magnus’ blog Documentary Fieldnotes and Flashpoints.]

– host and entertain three members of my family, visiting Montreal for their first time, from Abbotsford, B.C.

Longtime friends David and Charmaine Hicks on the left, and sibs Sharla Vanderwoude and Matthew Elliott on the right, enjoying a pitcher in the Old Port.

[In which the Elliott family, who possess at least 10 cars between them back on the Ranch, are shocked to learn how far one can go using only public transit and bicycles.]

Here we are in all our Polarized glory: sisters Sharla and Tobi, and my bro Matthew Elliott, together on the metro for first time.

One of the STM's 'green' bus shelters with leafy things growing out of the top.

– pack up 12 years worth of stuff acquired while “out east” and ship it “out west”. [I own 2 articles of furniture: a solid wood coffeetable from Brazil, and a bookshelf, and waaaay more books than I can afford to ship. This is the sum of my valued (non-electronic) goods. Electronic goods and software have a value of approx 10,000 times the rest of the stuff. And my people are worth a million times the value of my electronic goods. Below, Matte Downey, aka Martha, and Charmaine Hicks, two of the people I would like to pack back west with me.]

– and now I’m en route to Quebec City for more wine and dining, more sights and pastoral landscapes, and the beginning of a family bonding road trip that promises to be fairly congenial, perhaps to the point of actually enjoyable.

Matt meets Kim, our escort around Montreal’s Old Port.

So. Many stories to come.

After all, there’s not much else I’ll have to do in an air-conditioned RV for ten hours per day on the 6+ days it will take to reach Vancouver.