In almost three decades of dedicated slogging through minefields both real and bureaucratic, Vancouver’s Nettie Wild has proved herself a master of the documentary form.
In early films like 1993’s Blockade, and A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution, five years before that, she literally put her body on the line to capture stories as they were dangerously unfolding.
“I don’t want to work that way anymore,” says the veteran filmmaker, calling from her Kitsilano home. It’s not that her art is getting any less physical, or even less risky. It’s just that for her latest effort, Koneline: Our Land Beautiful (opening Friday [October 28]), she wanted to change the way she thought about making movies.
“This time,” Wild continues, “it was really about letting the image evolve instead of going out to get something. It’s still about being there to grab opportunities, but chasing a predetermined story. In northern B.C., there’s a big debate about land development, and we don’t hear much about it down south.
“Compared to Blockade, which addressed similar issues, this one has more to do with finding the cinematic poetry in a place. People are getting so tired of being told what to think and feel; as filmmakers, I think it helps to leave ourselves open for something to evolve on-screen.”
For Wild, that meant spending a lot of time in the rugged northwest, sometimes with only cinematographer Van Royko in tow, and letting the people she met there determine where the story would go.
“It’s challenging to trust yourself, and your subjects, to reveal some core truths without interference from a political perspective.”
In that region, it was impossible to ignore looming conflicts between the indigenous community, charged with protecting wildlife and pristine surroundings, and the needs of the mining industry, acting as agents for our “civilized” needs. She was initially locked out of the latter.
“The whole industry was leery of what we were trying to do. But once some of the geologists and lineworkers started to talk, we had these ‘tailgate screenings’, in which we showed them what we were shooting.
Essentially, we were saying, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to show everything that’s in the frame.’ I’ve always sought out contradictions in my work, but this time I had to really push it, and include all perspectives without editorializing.”
She knew the film would also need to convey a sense of Canadian history that doesn’t preclude any particular future.
“I needed to use all the riches of the cinematic language. A lot of people think filmmaking is made easier by new technology, but mostly it’s just two people running to catch up with whatever’s happening. In the end, Michael Brock delivered an edit that’s like jazz in the way it flows.”
The atmospheric music, by Jesse Zubot and others, certainly helps. But the movie’s hypnotic pull is mostly down to Wild’s seasoned eye.
“I’ve had the honour of travelling this land for 20 years,” says the filmmaker, who was born in New York City. “I’ve crossed it by horse, car, train, and foot. And I’m still hopelessly smitten with the North.”
Go to the Canada Wild Productions website for an interactive exploration of the award-winning film’s main themes.