Charles Wilkinson has something to say about a certain message Hollywood has been doggedly shoving down your throat of late.
“These apocalyptic movies that keep coming out about how the ATM machines stop working and suddenly we all become cannibals?” he begins, joining the Straight at a small Hastings-Sunrise café. “That’s bullshit. We’re an orderly, thoughtful, decent people here. If the electricity went off this second, within a very short period of time we would have reorganized everything such that the food that’s grown here would be distributed in some sort of equitable way, people would help each other, social services would continue…”
The local filmmaker has good reason to see a glimmer of hope as we face an environmental, political, and social endgame that “deep down, we all believe we’re heading for”. In fact, he adds, “I know very few people who don’t welcome the idea of a crash. I think all of us want to hit some sort of wall so we can slow this thing down.”
His newest doc, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, opening Friday (November 20), brought Wilkinson to a part of the world that went from pristine to near apocalyptic, thanks to the kind of blind and reckless resource depletion he saw up close when he hunkered down in Fort McMurray to make his previous film, 2013’s Oil Sands Karaoke. But Haida Gwaii bounced back.
“I just saw this place where people aren’t in a huge rush to destroy where they live. They don’t have to because they don’t need to buy that new Porsche,” he says of a community that adapted to a significantly simpler lifestyle in its post-logging era. The other element in the successful rebirth of Haida Gwaii is unremitting resistance to big industry. Wilkinson believes this is the answer we’re all groping for, even in the unlikeliest of places. The week before, he had presented his film to a sold-out audience in New York.
“How does that happen?” he asks with a broad smile. “And yet when you spend any real time with residents of New York, the vibe that you start getting is that people love it there. They come there because they absolutely love it. People feel about Central Park the way many people feel about Gwaii Haanas [National Park Reserve] in Haida Gwaii. It’s the same thing. These are not places people come to just to make a living; they’re places they come to because of the life.”
“If you love the place that you live,” Wilkinson says, including you, Vancouver, “you’ll defend it.”