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Water and Art
TORONTO WATER DOCS FESTIVAL OPENER FEATURES THE PEEL, ONE OF THE LAST INTACT WATERSHEDS IN NORTH AMERICA
By Ronan O'Doherty
The Peel Project, the opener for the Water Docs Film Festival (March 29 – April 2), is a documentary about a canoe trip.
The subjects in the film are six artists that create in different mediums and one of North America's last intact watersheds, The Peel, located in the northern expanse of the Yukon.
The artists, although far from helpless, aren't your typical arctic adventurers.
Anthony Wallace, a film maker, musician and composer is one of the directors of the film as well as a subject within it. His co-director, Calder Cheverie is an outdoors guide who has paddled through many of Canada's great waterways.
They made the decision to film southern Canadians who hadn't been to the untamed North, in order to make the film more relatable to audiences across the country.
"Most people have an outdated idea about what the north is," Wallace said in a phone interview, "We wanted to bring a demographic of people who could go up and take their experiences and express that back to southern audiences," adding," We thought artists in different mediums would be the best conduit for that."
The political and legal battles the Peel Watershed is embroiled within acts as a backdrop for the trip. As one of the last intact watersheds in North America, it's a prime candidate for development in the form of mining and resource extraction.
It may seem frivolous to believe that an author, a couple visual artists, a composer, a photographer and a glass blower could make much difference to political machinations but artistic expression can sometimes be more powerful than an excel spreadsheet pointing out inevitable demise.
In the casting process, Wallace and Cheverie were careful about who they decided to bring.
"We asked them to propose loosely what their ideas (for artistic projects) would be to make sure they'd use a leave-no-trace approach," Wallace said.
After watching the subjects get tested in myriad cruel ways by the wilderness they're travelling through, the second half of the film starts focusing on some of the art they're making.
Whether it's touching poems describing the surroundings, string solos recorded on the water next to majestic cliffs, grainy images captured by steam punk looking cameras or some cleverly water painted river smoothed rocks; the viewer starts to understand why the artists were showcased in the first place.
"Individually on their own, (the art is) more about people's personal experiences," Wallace said, "But together it's more of a complete narrative."
Towards the end of the film, the directors chose to show that the North isn't devoid of people by introducing some of the First Nations that still depend on the land.
Abraham Stewart from Fort McPherson is interviewed during a hunting trip with some elders and youth from the community.
"Today I have (with me) two young boys," Stewart says," They could continue to make a living off of this land and this river and it's because we keep it clean."
Once a rough cut of the film was ready, Cheverie and Wallace, decided to bring it back to the land it was filmed in.
"In the fall we brought the film up to the Yukon to say, 'Hey, this is what we did," Wallace said, "We wanted to make sure we represented the issues the best we could."
According to Wallace the reception for the film has been positive and they're looking forward to showing it as the opening film for the Water Docs Film Festival this Thursday at the Hot Docs cinema on Bloor Street West.
Artwork inspired by the film will be on display at the Centre for Innovation on Bathurst just around the corner from the cinema.
For more information on the issues surrounding The Peel Watershed, Wallace recommends protectpeel.ca as a resource.