Reel fun:

🕔Jan 29, 2009
Bring on the paparazzi and move over Cannes, because Haida Gwaii is holding its first annual film festival! The Haida Gwaii Film Festival: Images on the Archipelago is the brainchild of Haida Gwaii-based filmmakers Dafne Romero and Geoff Horner. For three days over the first weekend in March (6th-8th), festival-goers will get to eat, drink and breathe a non-stop array of moving images at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate. And it’s not only about Haida Gwaii, say the organizers. Up-and-coming or award-winning films made by filmmakers from all over the world will be on the big screen.Submissions have been coming in from Italy, Mexico, Nunavut, Cuba, Quebec, Southern BC and more. The films cover all genres “from the cheesy to the intellectual,” says Romero. In its first year the festival will provide something for everyone, adds Horner. As of early January he’d received comedies, thrillers, animation, short films, documentaries and even erotica through an on-line submission process. “We want to provide a broad spectrum to start with,” he says. And after a long winter, islanders are looking for a broader perspective, says Alison Waldie, another member of the film festival team. “Our mission is to bring the world to our world on Haida Gwaii,” adds Romero.One of the films Romero and Horner are most excited about is a documentary on introduced species by Arnaldo Jimenez from Cuba. Another highlight is a film called Machuca, a coming-of-age story set in Chile in 1973 as Pinochet’s military coup creates chaos across the country. The story is about two children, one privileged and one from a nearby shantytown, who become friends during the pandemonium.

Swirling themes
Originally from Mexico City, Romero may seem to have a penchant for Latin American films, but her time in film school in Montreal drew her attention to French filmmakers as well. Paris-born and Quebec-based Aida Maigre-Touchet’s Kiyoukta was recently given an honorable mention at Rendez-vous du Cinema Québécois and is set in Nunavut, in a community near a calcite mine and a military base, but with an evanescent spirit throughout.
Other films that may be on the schedule include: Barstool Cowboy, a story from Nebraska about a down-and-out cowboy who decides to set up camp at the local drinking hole. While drowning his sorrows, he gets entangled with a lovely art student, and the antics that ensue leave him wondering whether this binge was the best idea after all. Two short films by a Korean director explore the swirling themes of public restrooms and Arctic animals, and Geeka (Water’s Edge) is a modern indigenous dance narrative about a dancer interacting with a future where the most powerful rivers and lakes have run dry. The piece was produced and directed by Tsimshian filmmaker Leena Minifie.
Tow Hill Road resident Nate Jolley will be on hand to present his film, Making Haida History, the story of Old Massett artist Christian White and his family’s commitment to passing on Haida traditions. And Romero will show an erotic film she made in 2006 titled Huevos Impudicos (Shameless Eggs).
Part of the idea, says Horner, is to use the film festival as a forum to discuss important issues on the islands. She thinks films like Jimenez’s will help kick-start the discussion. Haida Gwaii can learn a lot from a place like Cuba, says Romero. Not only is it an island, but Cubans have been forced to become self-sufficient after so many decades of the US embargo.
She says the subject of introduced species is especially relevant on Haida Gwaii, where deer brought by European settlers have been destroying the forest understory, including munching on precious cedar saplings, for the last 80 years.

If Mark Leiren-Young’s film The Green Chain makes it on the program, it might stir up some discussion too. Nothing is ever clear-cut, states the director in the promotional details of the film (which is set to hit theatres in February). The battle between loggers and environmentalists is defining, dividing and destroying communities in Canada and around the world. The Green Chain is billed as a powerful, funny and thought-provoking film about the conflicts between people battling for the trees—those who are willing to risk anything to protect their personal visions of the forest.
Another bonus for film aficionados is that some of the filmmakers will be present to give workshops on their craft. If all goes well, Jimenez will be one of those attending. Romero says he is such an inspiration because he is able to produce evocative films with so few resources. “They don’t even have post-production studios in Cuba,” she says. She especially wants to encourage people to create films of their own. “It’s a means to communicate,” she says.
Meanwhile, Romero and Horner are plugging away at a film of their own, while working to get the film festival up and running (also with little resources).
Romero has dabbled in film festivals before on Haida Gwaii, putting on the well-remembered and community-supported Women on the Verge event in 2003. She left the islands soon afterwards, feeling very fulfilled.
She met Horner by fluke while working on a film project at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver; he’d been visiting the islands on and off for 10 years. The realization that Romero had contacts there as well helped pull them both back.
“Originally we were going to do a documentary on goshawks,” says Romero, but because goshawks are such a threatened species, the team found the project to be technically challenging. “It was difficult to imagine how to get the footage,” she says. The birds nest deep in the old growth forest, and even the biologists they were working with were not keen on helping them get up into the trees.
They wanted to use the goshawk as a lens into the socio-economic world of Haida culture, they say, but have since switched focus to a more easily accessible topic: the Haida canoe. Tluu is the Haida word for canoe, and they will show a short trailer of the film at the festival this year. Watch for the feature film at next year’s festival.
Romero sees events like this as an important part of the future economy of the islands. With resource industries slowing down (think Green Chain), the importance of arts and artists to the islands’ economy is increasing.
Although the organizers were discouraged when they didn’t get the funding they were hoping for from the Gwaii Trust, a local foundation, they are not daunted and intend to apply for Canada Council for the Arts funding after the third year.
“There is a future to this for the islands,” Romero says. She plans on making Images on the Archipelago one of the top festivals in a remote setting in Canada.
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