Mov­ing Pic­tures

BC Business Magazine - - Offline - By Lucy Hys­lop

From carv­ing and met­al­smithing to help­ing iden­tify the plants on the pro­tec­tion list used by log­gers, Gwaai Eden­shaw is some­thing of a Re­nais­sance man. Now, as a codi­rec­tor and co-writer, he’s lead­ing the charge for a new film in­dus­try in his na­tive Haida Gwaii— though it’s not moviemak­ing as Hol­ly­wood would nec­es­sar­ily know it.

His $1.8-mil­lion fea­ture, Edge of the Knife, is in the Haida lan­guage with English sub­ti­tles. (Eden­shaw is a found­ing mem­ber of the Haida sto­ry­telling group Q’altsi’da Kaa, which helps pro­mote a tongue that has an es­ti­mated 20 speak­ers on the is­lands.) Backed by Kin­gul­liit Pro­duc­tions Inc. among oth­ers, in­clud­ing the B.C. and fed­eral tax credit pro­grams as well as the Canada Me­dia Fund, the film no­tably fea­tures pro­ducer Jonathan Frantz from the Nu­navut-based com­pany be­hind the 2001 clas­sic Ata­nar­juat: The Fast Run­ner, and that film’s Inuit di­rec­tor, Zacharias Kunuk, as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

Dur­ing our but­ter chicken lunch at Bur­goo Bistro in Van­cou­ver’s Point Grey, the 41-year-old ex­plains how the First Na­tions tra­di­tion of trad­ing was key to cre­at­ing the movie, which wrapped in the spring and whose pro­duc­ers hope it will make the roll call of film fes­ti­vals world­wide. For ex­am­ple, Eden­shaw now owes the map-mak­ing depart­ment of an­other sup­porter, the Coun­cil of the Haida Na­tion, for print­outs needed for the shoot. (He’ll teach them classes on medic­i­nal shrubs and mon­u­men­tal red cedar, which he has stud­ied in the field for more than a decade.) “My dad also al­lowed us to use some of his sea ot­ter furs in ex­change that we would sew them to­gether into a tu­nic for him,” he says of Gu­u­jaaw, the coun­cil’s well-known former pres­i­dent.

Eden­shaw’s tran­si­tion into dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling fol­lows stints cre­at­ing the edgy In­ter­net an­i­ma­tion se­ries Haida­wood, which started in 2007, and writ­ing, with his brother Jaalen, Sound­ing Gam­bling Sticks in Haida for the stage the fol­low­ing year. Men­tored by the late artist Bill Reid as a teenager, he has a jew­elry art and de­sign diploma from Van­cou­ver Com­mu­nity Col­lege and ex­hibits in gal­leries na­tion­wide and in Seat­tle and Santa Fe.

With cam­eras and other film equip­ment now in­stalled on the is­lands, Eden­shaw would like to echo the long­stand­ing Kin­gul­liit ap­proach of ex­plor­ing In­dige­nous cul­ture through lo­cally cre­ated movies. He’s con­fi­dent that his new film—riff­ing on a Haida say­ing that “the world is as sharp as the edge of a knife; as you go along you have to be care­ful or you will fall off one side or the other”—has given the Haida “proof of con­cept” of a sus­tain­able busi­ness.

“Our ac­tors look so good, the land­scape is beau­ti­ful, and hope­fully the story holds up to scru­tiny; I feel re­ally good about it,” says Eden­shaw, whose mu­si­cian part­ner, Kin­nie Starr, con­trib­uted to the film score. Al­though, he notes, the hi­er­ar­chy of telling Haida sto­ries is clear—no mat­ter who’s the di­rec­tor: “I’m the boss on set un­til the el­ders tell me other­wise.”

Of seek­ing al­ter­na­tives to log­ging, he adds, “We also as­pire to non-re­source in­dus­tries in our com­mu­nity.” The Haida may con­trol what is felled, but he still thinks “be­ing in the busi­ness of log­ging in­tro­duces a cri­sis of per­son­al­ity be­cause we’ve fought log­ging as long as I’ve been alive.”

Eden­shaw is quick to point out that the Haida Na­tion has a long his­tory of “as­sert­ing Haida law on our land.” Grow­ing up in a strong po­lit­i­cal net­work and with the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions do­ing the heavy lift­ing to en­sure that its art is rec­og­nized and val­ued, he’s been able to ex­plore dif­fer­ent parts of his cul­ture. “I def­i­nitely have a dis­tinct priv­i­lege in terms of the time I was born into, and it al­lows me to stretch out into dif­fer­ent spa­ces,” Eden­shaw says. “Al­though we still have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties—just be­cause we’ve made strides doesn’t mean that we’ve achieved equi­lib­rium or jus­tice.”

With his first fea­ture, Haida artist Gwaai Eden­shaw brings the film busi­ness to his an­ces­tral home

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