VIFF 2016: Documentarian Nettie Wild opts for a cinematic approach to controversy in Koneline: our land beautiful

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      There's no shortage of documentaries that will inform you that our world is going to hell in a handbasket in a multitude of ways.

      Consequently, Vancouver-based documentarian Nettie Wild decided to take a different approach with her fifth feature film, Koneline: our land beautiful.

      "I think there's a weariness out there with films with smart people telling you that it's the end of the world and what you have to do," she told the Georgia Straight in an interview at the Vancouver International Film Centre, "so I thought, 'Well, if I think that, what is it that I could bring?' "

      Her answer? Art.

      Documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild

      "It's all about seeing the role that art can play in controversy," she said of her film, which screens at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival.

      Despite her own strong personal views and feelings about the place, she decided not to make a polemical piece. 

      "Koneline: our land beautiful is about one of the last great wildernesses in the country, facing irreversible change. And it takes place in a part of British Columbia which is the most beautiful part of the planet and that I have a real passion for, and I really thought, 'What is it that I can bring to this, as an outsider, a Southern, a non-native, what in the world could I bring?' "

      Koneline: our land beautiful

      Her previous documentaries have covered a diverse range of politically charged subjects, ranging from Mexico's Zapatista National Liberation Army in A Place Called Chiapas to the struggle to establish a safe-injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in FIX: The Story of an Addicted City.

      Yet in a bid to avoid imposing her own perspective on audiences, she sought a new approach to provide room for people—and the land—to speak for themselves by showing rather than telling.

      "I put together the best documentary crew of artists I could find in the country, and we went up north and we started to realize that our job was to find the poetry in every single person in front of our lens, including diamond drillers and linemen, as well as elders who protest against them," she said.

      As testimony to her own steadfast commitment to objectivity, she maintained an open and unbiased mind in capturing all the people involved on camera, whether they agreed with or went against her own opinions.

      "If you go in determined at the outset that miners are just unthinking people, then you're not going to see the relationship that they have to that land so we said to ourselves as filmmakers we have to be prepared to be surprised and we were and we think our audience is going to be too," she said.

      Koneline: our land beautiful

      What she created, she describes as "cinematic poem" that is "a really delicious, visceral experience of a place that's facing change".

      That change is a result of numerous conflicting interests that are threatening to tear the northern B.C. wilderness apart. (Mind you, one First Nations interviewee in the film says at the outset that there's no word for wild or wilderness in his language—which speaks volumes.)

      "The hunters in the world call it the Serengeti of the North because there's so much wildlife up there. The miners of the world call it the Golden Triangle because it's laced with copper and gold. And the Tahltan First Nation call it home. So it's like the seeds of huge conflict that were sown millions of years ago when this planet was formed and it is extraordinary—it's extraordinary landscape and it's extraordinary wealth."

      Documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild
      Craig Takeuchi

      Her cinematic strategy is not only a visually stunning and immersive work, but it's also scooped up the best Canadian documentary award at Toronto's Hot Docs festival and is racking up critical praise.

      Accordingly, the word extraordinary can be used to describe Wild as well.

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