Movies: Available Light Film Festival
Veteran documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild heads North to explore a motherlode of ugly conflict unfolding against a backdrop of pristine beauty in her latest film, Konelïne: Our Land Beautiful
By Katherine Monk
(Feb. 8, 2016. Updated Oct. 29, 2016) WHITEHORSE, YUKON — “We didn’t want it. We still don’t want it. But it was a done deal when they called us to the table.”
Tahltan elder Lillian Moyer was speaking about a transmission line along the once-scenic Highway 37 in Canada’s Yukon, but the comments she uttered at the premiere of Nettie Wild’s latest documentary, Konelïne – Our land Beautiful, seem applicable to just about every situation that pits traditional First Nations’ values against the continuing colonial reality.
From resource extraction in pristine wildlife habitats in the North to condos and casinos on traditional lands in the South, Canada’s colonial history clearly didn’t end with when Europeans left the garrison. It continues to claim victims every day, from dead or dying languages to dwindling salmon stocks.
“There are no more animals. You don’t see moose or caribou. I pray to god, that one day this will be solved,” said Moyer, addressing the packed house at the Yukon Arts Centre, where Konelïne made its festival bow as part of the Available Light Film Festival before playing Vancouver for a limited engagement at the Vancity Theatre this week.
Wild said she spent four years researching and interviewing subjects within the Tahltan territory, a vast swath of spectacular wilderness that forms the sacred headwaters of the Stikine River in Northern British Columbia.
The area isn’t just visually jaw-dropping, it feeds major rivers systems within the province, but in recent years, this remote and largely untouched geographic gem has also become a theatre of modern rhetorical warfare — involving First Nations, environmentalists, government officials and corporate resource extractors.
For Wild, whose previous credits include Blockade, A Rustling of Leaves and A Place Called Chiapas, this type of material was relatively familiar — which is why she needed to try a new approach.
“I’ve already made movies about blockades,” she said. “I wanted to try to make something different, bring some poetry to it… and find the layers of narrative, because it is complicated.”
Working like a series of stand-alone visual poems, Konelïne: Our Land Beautiful takes on several narrative threads at once.
One shows us Oscar Dennis, a linguist struggling to record the last remaining speakers of traditional Tahltan before they die off. Another shows us Moyer blockading The Red Chris Mine, a large-scale development in search of Yukon gold that could leave a gaping pit in the middle of a migratory corridor for endangered caribou. Another shows us two aboriginal hunters shooting a female moose in the head from their pickup truck on the highway.
For every shot of awe-inspiring beauty, Wild follows up with something undeniably ugly — putting the viewer in a classic push-pull mental state for the duration.
Great art is supposed to conflict the viewer and prompt a deeper, internal investigation, and from the reaction after Sunday night’s world premiere, it seems Wild succeeded.
The audience was supportive of the Tahltan people, but the Tahltan cause remained blurry given many members of the Nation see resource development as their only hope at economic autonomy.
“We are fighting on two fronts,” said Oscar Dennis. “One is the grass-roots… where we take direct action, such as going into a camp and seizing drills with threat of violence,” he said.
“The other is the Indian Act model… which is based on section 33 of the Indian Act which demands the government consult and accommodate the First Nations on un-treatied territories. Our territory has never been treatied, and never been surrendered… So the Indian Act model says they have to consult and accommodate, but the BC Government doesn’t consult. The companies come in, and the government was supposed to consult with us, but they don’t — so it’s left to the companies to consult with us — and they consult with our leadership, not everyone else,” continued Dennis.
“When they move forward, they candy-coat these things and talk about the ‘impact benefit model’ that weighs the potential damage to our culture and our land, and from that, compensate our leadership — which gets a paycheque based on this model,” said Dennis.
“So on one hand you have the grassroots model of these people who stood on blockades and got arrested, and taken to jail because they wanted to defend the land for their grandchildren. And on the other, you have the impact-benefit model… It’s a hard fight, and we can’t do it over and over again.”
Wild said being an outsider helped her find the required distance from the drama, and see both sides of the ever-spinning issues.
“The big sense I had as an outsider, and a Southerner, was that if an exploration company made a genuine offer to consult and was prepared to talk to the Tahltan about where they could and could not explore, I think the Tahltan have already proven they are willing to do business. It’s just not a carte blanche situation where consultation is not real consultation,” said Wild.
“I think this is really important because I get some sense the reason why we were allowed to shoot in some mines is because there are open minds out there… there is a chance at creating a future economy, just not a blind one — where it’s all about taking advantage of people through a lack of consultation.”
Konelïne: Our Land Beautiful screens in traditional Tahltan territory this month before rolling out in more southern climes later this year.
For more information on the Tahltan, please visit http://www.tahltan.ca
Photo: Nettie Wild (fourth from left), Oscar Dennis (with microphone), Lillian Moyer (second from right)
THE EX-PRESS, February 8, 2016