There is an agreement among the three women leading the charge behind Uninterrupted that, as Vancouverites, most of us feel a sense of unspoken presence when it comes to a particular chrome-coloured fish.
Whether served raw at sushi restaurants, carved into Coast Salish artwork, or spawning in one of the Fraser River’s tributaries, salmon are embedded in our collective West Coast consciousness.
It’s that omnipresence that director Nettie Wild and producers Rae Hull and Betsy Carson hope to highlight with their latest cinematic spectacle, a multimedia public artwork presented this summer beneath the Cambie Street Bridge.
“One of the things that was so appealing about this project is the extent to which we take salmon for granted,” Hull tells the Straight, seated between Carson and Wild during an interview at their Mount Pleasant studio, the home of Carson and Wild’s production company, Canada Wild. “By using a piece of urban architecture to bring to light the extent to which salmon are something that we should embrace, there’s a possibility of seeing this story as it’s never been seen before.”
An intimate look at the life cycle of one of the coast’s most revered creatures, Uninterrupted combines awe-inspiring underwater footage with exquisitely captured ambient sound and a musical score to tell the story of the sockeye salmon run—and it’s as much a work of art as it is a tool for promoting conservation.
Before filming along the Adams, Pitt, and Sproat rivers, Wild and team looked to the expertise of the Secwepemc First Nation (particularly the Little Shuswap Indian Band), as well as the Katzie and Hupacasath First Nations, and biologists from local conservation organizations. It required the technical and artistic genius of more than 130 team members, and has taken nearly four years to complete.
For Wild, who began conceptualizing the project when she first witnessed the salmon run from the Adams River in 2010, Uninterrupted has proven to be the most challenging and exhilarating cinematic undertaking of her 30-year career.
“It’s no surprise that you’d be moved by an extraordinary natural phenomenon, and it’s very deep when it happens—but I was just blown away by the patterns of it,” Wild says. “It became a process of, ‘How do you bring that wonder from the natural world, without being arrogant and thinking you can reproduce it, into the city?’ ”
Wild and crew took to the banks of the rivers and, having no experience shooting underwater, quickly discovered how many creative challenges lay before them.
“We realized that this world was this moving space of light and fish and current, and that if we were able to stabilize our camera and have a fixed frame with the river roaring by, we’d be able to capture the magic of the motion,” she says. “We had this saying on the river, that if we were framing something and it was pretty, like a ‘Beautiful B.C.’ postcard, we’d cut, and if it looked like an abstract oil [painting], we’d roll—just to push us as artists, and force us to frame the familiar in an unfamiliar way.”
The trio’s next big challenge—finding the right place to project the film—proved to be just as difficult.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be in a cinema, that this was going to speak stronger as a public spectacle, and we needed to figure out what that meant,” Wild says.
Instead, she, Carson, and Hull looked to projection mapping as a way of presenting the work on the surface of an urban structure. Their search for the perfect stone façade seemed impossible among Vancouver’s glass buildings, until a bike ride through Coopers’ Park exposed Wild to the underbelly of the Cambie Street Bridge.
“It’s perfect in so many ways. It’s enormous, and it has all these huge planes that disappear off into the distance. Plus, metaphorically, we get to bring the salmon back to False Creek, which was once teeming with salmon,” Wild says.
Computer-generated graphics and virtual-reality software enabled Wild’s editors and technicians to shape the story onto the unusual dimensions of the bridge, while Hull and Carson took on the tasks of locating funding and obtaining the support of the City of Vancouver.
“It really has taken a city to bring this together, because without the City of Vancouver, the department of engineering, the park board, and the surrounding urban residences, it would be a beautiful creative vision, and that’s where it would stay,” says Hull.
By partnering with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Vancity, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, The Government of Canada (Canada 150), and the Canada Council for the Arts, among others, Wild, Hull, and Carson are hopeful that they’ll attract audiences whose only current interest in salmon involves eating it.
“Our key audience is people who never think about fish. I’m hoping that it brings about a new way of thinking about salmon, and of course the idea of environmental conservancy,” says Carson.
“One big thing that this has in common with other public art is that anybody can experience it in the same way that everybody else does, without having to work with language. On the other hand, it immerses people in a world they’ve never been to, which is very different than simply observing a static piece of public art,” she adds.
“You’re in the middle of it, and that can be very visceral.”
After the show each night, audience members can extend their experience at the film's interactive website, where there are opportunities to sign up for monthly newsletters, attend salmon-conservation events, and work on cleaning local streams. Those who decide to chip in will have their name projected on the bridge in advance of the event each evening.
While the trio at the helm of Uninterrupted will soon see the fruits of their labour, Hull says they remain anxious to discover how urbanites in Vancouver will respond. “There’s a glorious opportunity here, by virtue of the creation that is being brought to bear on that bridge, to say to people whose hearts will be moved by this: ‘What are you going to do about it?’ ”
Uninterrupted will screen at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Coopers’ Park from Wednesday (June 28) to September 24.