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Breaking through the Roar of Rhetoric with the Power of Art and Film

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Documentaries are unique tools to tell a story. How many have been glued to the screen as they see events unfold? Nettie Wild has set the stage for what a documentary can genuinely be. She created provocative documentary films and shifted to art pieces, believing art can tell the complexities of stories. 

Wild started her career in what some may call political documentaries. However, Wild would call them high-stakes, real-life dramas taking her to various social movements and revolutions worldwide. Although documentary filmmaking is where she got her started with her films A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution (1988) and Blockade (1993), her focus morphed into a new abstract and cinematic form. One of the latest cinematic installations comes from four years of filming the migration patterns of salmon, projecting the footage onto the underside of the Camby Street Bridge in Vancouver. 

“I’m very, very proud of those original films. The more controversial our times become, there is a bigger role for art to play. The reason for that is art can embrace complexity and replace rhetoric. Right now, there’s a lot of finger-wagging going on in so-called documentary filmmaking… I don’t know about you, but I fall asleep in those films; I konk out. There’s no surprise, no complexity, or very little of it.”

During Wild’s 2016 film, KONELINE: Our Land Beautiful, the crew was far in Canada’s north in a vast wilderness. A scenic location on the cusp of change due to heavy industrialization. During this time, riding horses across those lands, Wild realized, what can someone who is so removed from the lives of the people living there do that isn’t insulting to them when telling this story? That’s when she had the realization art was the answer.  

“The answer came fairly quickly,” says Wild. “It was to find the poetry in every single person who came in front of our lenses. Poetry, the good stuff, is dark as well as light. It wasn’t about creating a puff piece. It’s about really diving into those contradictions when they present themselves but finding cinematic language and wonder to do so.”

The project explored an extraordinary cast of characters, diamond drillers, linemen putting up towers, First Nations Elders hunting on the land, guide outfitters taking big game hunters onto the land, Tahltan First Nation working as diamond drillers, and the people protesting against it. All these people had the same answer as to why they were out there a love for the land. Exploring this answer requires a curious camera, not a judgemental one, says Wild. You can use that starting point to find a person’s cinematic language, a repeated action you can film. From that approach and the lessons she learned from Koniline and her project Uninterrupted, she began to develop a new artistic vocabulary and eye.

But how does one utilize an artistic viewpoint of controversial subjects for social change? Working with co-director Scott Smith are developing a triptych of gillnetter boats, creating a mirrored, almost kaleidoscope effect of the nets and their designs, beautiful and controversial.

Concern over this type of fishing includes:

  • By-catch. The incidental capture of non-target species during fishing.
  • Ghost fishing. When abandoned nets drift through the oceans entangling animals.

Wild hopes through projects like hers, she can connect people of all sides and start a conversation about corporations continuously looking to grow their bottom line, society’s desire for convenience, the fight against industries’ impact on human lives and the environment, and the individuals who work in these industries because they need money to support their families. 

“The point here is not to just be artsy fartsy. The point is to pull a fisherman, someone protesting the fisheries, and someone who doesn’t care about fish except when they eat them and pull all of them into the show. Why? Because people, a friend perhaps, have been captured by the wonder you’ve created and pulled people, unlikely partners, together. They may not share the dinner table with each other, but they will share that 25 minutes together.”

We are facing a massive paradigm shift in the world and how we deal with it is key. By bringing people together through art, you can break through the roar of rhetoric and have poignant conversations about making a difference. 

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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