Haida Gwaii offers up hope from the edge of the world

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      A documentary by Charles Wilkinson. Rating unavailable.

      The third film in an eco-minded triptych by filmmaker Charles Wilkinson, Haida Gwaii counters the creeping despair that underpinned Peace Out and Oil Sands Karaoke with a pretty memorable tag line: “Maybe we’re not totally screwed.” (Are they putting that on the poster?)

      To his credit, Wilkinson’s film builds a sturdy case for hope, a wispy commodity that we probably need to either jettison completely or convert into something a lot more meaningful, like real and decisive action. Haida Gwaii itself is a paradise that was snatched from the jaws of total obliteration, and Wilkinson lays out the tragic dimensions of its story.

      Those islands off the northwest coast of B.C.—“Canada’s Galápagos”, as one of the film’s talking heads reminds us—once boasted more diversity and biomass than the Amazon. Now a sickening two-thirds of its old-growth forest has been lost to logging. Prior to that, smallpox brought the aboriginal population to the brink of extinction.

      But the point here is that Haida Gwaii entered a period of recovery that really began when the Haida Nation and erstwhile outsiders finally stood up to the forest industry, with Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve as the spoils of that particular win. An array of island inhabitants—from a Mexican kelp farmer, to a family of marine biologists monitoring the all-important herring population—further make the case that small-scale, conscientious community living and unwavering resistance to corporate hegemony is the only way out of our increasingly terminal mess.

      With this evocatively shot feature—in which ancient leviathans are seen to routinely breach the islands’ crisp waters—Wilkinson convincingly insists that the example set by Haida Gwaii is more exportable than the bitumen some overcompensated fools are so hell-bent on driving through Hecate Strait.

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