Two documentaries at this year's Whistler Film Festival paint a picture of life in British Columbia that is as far from the ski slopes and swish five-star hotels as one could imagine.
Hope and Reservation Soldiers, which are having their world premieres here, tell stories about aboriginal people on reserves and the crushing poverty, high-unemployment rates and too-few options that often go with that life.
Hope screens tonight as part of the documentary conference DOC Talk. (The festival officially opens tomorrow). It is the first film by Thomas Buchan, 28, and Stuart Reaugh, 29, who graduated from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2005 and who managed to get the National Film Board to produce their hour-long documentary.
The film tracks Ken Paquette, his partner, Winnie Peters, and their five children over a year. They are living on the Schkam Native Reserve, across the river from Hope, B.C. But soon, the relationship disintegrates, Paquette moves to a motel in Hope and Winnie's new boyfriend, Rick, moves into the family home.
The beautiful surroundings contrast with the ugliness that unfolds in their lives: Ken struggles with money and faces eviction from his motel room. His son, Kenny, moves into a friend's place and severs ties with his mother.
The heavily tattooed Rick, smoking what appears to be a joint with Winnie in his pickup truck parked outside the house, boasts about how he won't allow alcohol in the home. Viewers will lose track of how many times the f-word is uttered, by parents and children alike.
Buchan and Reaugh shot about 80 hours of film during the year, capturing family members at their most hostile and most intimate moments.
The result is a hard-hitting, raw documentary that offers no narration, no point of view and no moral of the story. Still, the viewer can't help but wonder what future there is for these five children - and, by extension, others growing up in similar circumstances. "The film is way bigger than our talents and our scope or our intention," Buchan says. "It was a gift. The family was extremely generous with us and I think the film reflects their trust. ... We were just kind of lucky to be able to be in there and know how to set up a mike and shut up and listen."
By contrast, Lisa Jackson's documentary Reservation Soldiers is narrated, gives more political context and offers a quiet point of view.
It covers the efforts of the Canadian military to recruit native teenagers on reserves. Jackson, 33, who is Anishinaabe, was shocked to learn the military was going into high schools trying to sign up students for a program called Bold Eagle - a six-week boot camp that offers an introduction into military life with a $3,000 paycheque at the end of it. "That's a great wage for a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old," Jackson says. "And many of the [students are]coming from communities with 80 to 90 per cent unemployment. For these kids, getting a job at a gas station is a major success."
Jackson, who lives in Vancouver, quickly learned of the boot camp's power. "Bold Eagle, especially in parts of B.C.'s north where we were, is like a brand name. It's like Coca-Cola. Every kid knows about it. And it's sad to me that they don't know about all the other options that are available to them and that they snap this one up."
(The participants of the boot camp are not forced to join the military afterward. In the film, two of the three young men profiled say they do plan to join the military.)
Jackson says effecting change is the reason she makes films. "For me as an aboriginal director, there are a lot of stories that need to be told in a more contextualized way. I find it's very difficult to overcome the stereotypes and the hopelessness that are associated with the statistics about natives in this country."
Buchan, too, was interested in turning stereotypes on their heads in Hope.
"Rick [who is white]reflects a certain stereotype and Ken reflects a stereotype, but they also reflect the polar opposites at certain times in the film. ... We just tried to do our best to reflect who the people are, the humanity of their situation and their hopes for the future."
While Buchan respects that some people might take issue with a white filmmaker telling this story, he points out that the film is about families breaking apart - a universal issue. He also defends his right to explore this subject matter, in this location. "As a filmmaker, you're constantly looking for new space, new environments, the unknown in a sense, and you have to go there because it's the only way you find new things. And for us, that was the reservation, and that was Ken and his family."
Two other documentaries have their world premieres at this year's Whistler Film Festival: Tailor Made: Chinatown's Last Tailors, by Canadian filmmakers Marsha Newbery and Leonard Lee, and Breaking The Ice, about Israeli and Palestinian climbers who scale a mountain together in Antarctica.
Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness opens the festival tomorrow and will be in Quebec theatres on Dec. 7. The seventh annual festival will feature more than 90 films. Atom Egoyan will be honoured on Friday before the event wraps up on Sunday.
Hope screens tonight at 8 at Millennium Place. Reservation Soldiers screens on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on CTV on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., .