Nettie Wild’s latest documentary KONELĪNE: our land beautiful, about development in Northern B.C.’s magnificent Tahltan lands, won Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs. In his review of the film, POV editor Marc Glassman writes, ‘KONELĪNE is a wise, humanistic documentary. It’s a tone poem to a beautiful land and the amazing characters who live in it.’ Before the film screened at VIFF, Wild invited a reporter to her Vancouver home to talk about making the film, about surprising oneself as an artist, and the death of dogma.
Take it away, Nettie— Nancy Lanthier
NW: Nettie Wild
NW: In the past, for me, it’s mostly been following a character who would take us to an amazing place, where you’d go, ‘Geez! Truth is so much stranger than fiction.’ But with KONELĪNE, the form, the cinematic art, revealed itself as we went along, and that made it the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on. For instance, really early on we filmed the flying in of the giant transmission towers into Tahltan lands.
On one hand, it’s the cruel edge of development. But if you’re for it, it’s the artery that will power the future. What we realised was if we brought an 800 mm lens and super slow motion to the proceedings, we could capture abstract art, the likes of which we’d never seen before. We put an unfamiliar frame around something familiar.
Also, in that moment, we had the elegance of engineering, the brawn and ability of the linemen, the astounding landscape, and the brutal devastation of the environment, all in one frame. We didn’t have to say anything. It didn’t need a character to comment. And that was absolutely exciting and surprising. So, if you can surprise yourself as an artist, you can surprise your audience.
We had about 250 hours of rushes. And it was in the editing room that we further found the language of KONELĪNE. It wasn’t just capturing a scene of verité or cutting to follow characters through a story. It was finding images that cut together kind of like jazz—a very associative edit. The scenes were placed together like pearls on a string. Normally those pearls would build in a way that follows a character. With KONELĪNE, it was more about figuring it out: if what we’re editing is like a piece of music, what is the beginning, middle and end? What is the tension, when are the quiet parts, the loud parts and the driving parts that can take us to the next scene? So the editing was every bit as thrilling as being on location.
As a director you want to create a kind of creative soup that other artists can swim in. I’m the continuity. I’m the person who looks ahead to figure out where we’re going. It’s not my job to be calling the frame. For me, it’s a matter of setting up everything up so the cinematographer can do his job really well.
I always look for crew members who can help me find my movie. I show them where the keel is, and they take it to the moon. And then I have to respond to that.
A lot of people say KONELĪNE is very beautiful, and we really like it because there isn’t a point of view. Well, there is a point of view. But it is not the view of the Tahltan militant group; it’s not the view of the mining company, it’s not the point of view of the white woman from the south. The point of view we’re pursuing is that there is poetry in every single person in this huge polarised debate. And you have to understand the best poetry is gnarly. It’s got its contradictions and tensions. It’s not just beauty in the classical sense.
I think that, in these controversial times, dogma is death. Having said that, you have to find a language that cuts through that. I think these are the times for art to really come forward. A lot of films out there tell you what to think. I think art has a role now—a really big one. It’s our time.
But let me tell you, when you go into a mining meeting and say, don’t worry, we’re just making art, it’s not reassuring—they look at you like you’re from the moon. But when we showed those same people the footage we took, their reaction was, ‘Holy! We’d never seen ourselves like this before!’ That’s what we’re after.
And whatever you think of hunting, just park that assumption. In a million years, I couldn’t have come up with big, pink pillow of blood that comes out of the moose’s ear. I think it’s stunningly beautiful! Life and death itself all mixed in one image. The colour of it! I’d never seen a colour like that! If you leave yourself open—then you see what this existence can offer you. We just had our minds blown.
And that leads me to another way of storytelling, through cinematic image. It’s about trying to find a fresh way to look at something.
Related Links: Website | Interactive website
Producer: Betsy Carson
Cinematographer: Van Royko
Editor: Michael Brockington
Music: Jesse Zubot, Mark Lazeski, Hildegard Westerkamp, Daniel Pellerin
Editor: Michael Brockington
Production Company: Face to Face Media Ltd.
Monday Oct 3, 6:30 at the Vancouver Playhouse
Sunday Oct 9, 12:30 Van City Theatre
THEATRICAL RUN: Oct. 28 to Nov. 10, at Vancity Theatre.
Visit the POV VIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival!