The 2011 Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami claimed tens of thousands of lives. The devastating quake swept high measurements of debris into the ocean, with an estimated 1.5 million tonnes being dispersed throughout the water, and, in many cases, washing up on the shores of British Columbia.
Trying to turn the disaster into something inspirational, something positive, is Pete Clarkson, a Tofino-based “intertidal artist” who creates artworks out of ocean debris. Following him as he beachcombs for artifacts and turns them into a large-scale memorial to the Japanese victims, Debris, a short documentary by Vancouver’s John Bolton, sheds light on the quake’s continued reverberations across the water. Despite feeling a world away, B.C. has, quite clearly, been deeply affected by tragedy.
Screening with the feature film Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, Debris made its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival and has one final showing on Oct. 9. For Bolton, it was surprising to see the types of fragments that made their way to Tofino shores—namely, delicate glass lightbulbs. “It’s amazing how something so fragile can make it across the ocean,” he said during a question-and-answer period following the film’s Oct. 3 screening.
There’s a youthful vitality to Clarkson and his mission, and he has an insatiable appetite for the seemingly endless supply of wreckage. It is both comical and touching to watch him proudly show off his property, which is overflowing with the rubble—nets, buoys, wood planks, signs—that have yet to be used. Debris is a reminder to see things in new ways, to reinterpret something bland as something beautiful; to paraphrase the old trope, one man’s trash is another man’s art.