Decades ago, W. David Ward toured Haida village sites in what is now Gwaii Haanas and came away seeing art in a life-altering new way.
“It just really struck me that civilization, in that village, had come and gone, and the only thing left as a sign that they had been there was a piece of art,” says Ward in Eyes of Society, a short documentary by local filmmakers Allison Smith and Joseph Crawford.
“I went back to Toronto, I quit my job in a month, and I ran off to Mexico to be a painter.”
Eyes of Society was recently chosen for this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival, and has already screened at festivals in Vancouver, Washington D.C., at several art galleries and on Air Canada flights.
Filmed last summer, the nine-minute doc features different reflections on the role of art in society from six artists, including Haida painter April White, as they kayak from Tanu down to SG̱ang Gwaay. Other artists include Ward, Andrew Sookrah, Anja Karisik, Gary Landon, and Sophie Lavoie.
Islander Allison Smith, Braid Films’ creative director, said it was a breathtaking opportunity for she and Crawford to film above and below water at SGang Gwaay, and to speak with the artists each night by a campfire.
“This little film has gone different places that we thought from the beginning,” she said.
Rather than a conventional story arc that follows a single character, the film moves through the reflections of the half-dozen artists, with photography and an original score to match.
“That was a huge learning, and piece of the project that we’re super proud of,” said Smith, speaking of Patrick Wade, aka Dead Horse Beats, who composed a score that builds in a new instrument each time the audience meets a new artist.
Besides shooting underwater during the interview with Sophie Lavoie, who paints kelp forests and other submarine landscapes, challenges in making the film including flying a drone in the windy Gwaii Haanas air as the artists made an open crossing.
“It was exhilarating,” said Smith.
Eyes of Society will screen next October when the 2018 Banff Mountain Film Festival tours Haida Gwaii, but Smith said they would like to arrange an earlier showing together with some of the several other short films shot on Haida Gwaii this year. The project was supported by Seaward Kayaks, Gwaii Haanas, the Council of the Haida Nation, Green Coast Kayaking, and Moresby Explorers.
To find out more or request a community screening, visit www.braidfilms.com.