“Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World” at VIFF

Earth, wind, fire.

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Water—all you can see is water. Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World opens with a view of the deep, stretching on seemingly forever, and the only sound is the lapping of waves. It immediately sets the tone for the documentary, directed by Charles Wilkinson, as if to say: you are going to fall in love with this place.

Tucked up, up, and away, Haida Gwaii is a northwestern British Columbia archipelago—the most remote one in all of Canada—totalling approximately 1,000,000 hectares in land mass. The isolated group of islands is swiftly gaining attention, in part thanks to being named one of the 20 best trips for 2015 by National Geographic, but largely also due to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline expansion, which would see tankers carrying diluted bitumen through the area’s pristine waters. There is fierce political debate over the controversial pipeline; the proposal (which the pro-camp argues will increase B.C.’s job market and economy) was approved by the federal government with 209 conditions, but environmental and First Nations groups stand adamantly opposed for fear of a catastrophic spill.

Wilkinson’s documentary introduces viewers to Haida Gwaii and its people, outlining the history of the Haida Nation’s victorious fight against logging and following their preparations for the impending pipeline battle. Breathtaking shots of wildlife, and aerial views, only make it easier to understand why the inhabitants of the area are fighting so resiliently to protect it.

“It’s a huge honour that you do to the amazing people of Haida Gwaii,” Wilkinson said to the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) audience—which gave him a standing ovation—during question period after the film’s second screening. “We’re so deeply honoured that people took us into their hearts and shared their stories with us.” Though it traditionally rains a lot on Haida Gwaii, Wilkinson and his team got lucky, experiencing an unprecedented number of sunny days during one of their many trips up there. Wilkinson’s passion for Haida Gwaii was evident, and he was quick to point out that it’s a place stunning in the rain, too: “It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s hard to shoot anything that isn’t beautiful there.”

Politics aside, Haida Gwaii offers a look at Haida art, philosophy, and spirit—aspects of provincial history and culture that all British Columbians should understand. There is a lot to learn, after all, about working towards a more sustainable future. The film’s final VIFF showing takes place on Friday, but Wilkinson revealed that it will also complete a run at the Vancity Theatre in November.

Much the same way it begins, Haida Gwaii ends with goosebumps on the arms—and the ferocious promise to oneself to visit, as soon as possible.

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October 6, 2015