A Story of Love as Deep as the Sea

Graham Richard —

Haida animator, writer, and director Waats’daa Christopher Auchter celebrated the debut of his film The Mountain of SGaana at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this September 23th and 24th. The animated short borrows elements from the story of Naa-Naa-Simgat, a classical hero who travels to the depths of the sea to retrieve his loved one. In Waats’daa’s reinterpretation, Kuugin Jaad Mouse Woman appears to a young man who is running a troller. She weaves the story into a blanket to illustrate it to him.

A sGaana Killer whale woman captures Naa-Naa-Simgat while he is out hunting kuu Sea otters. His lover Kuuga Kuns must travel to the supernatural plane beneath the sea. A xaaguu Pacific halibut brings Kuuga Kuns to the Mountain of SGaana deep underwater, where a host of supernatural creatures have gathered to witness the marriage of Naa-Naa-Simgat to his captor. Using the supernatural power of her ancestors, Kuuga Kuns performs a cunning rescue.

The Mountain of SGaana is full of subtle visual references to supernatural landforms, traditional elements, and uniquely Haida ways of seeing. Waats’daa explained that these smaller pieces brought a sincerity to the film that only Haida people could provide.

“Naa-Naa-Samgit is very intriguing. A lot happens and it contains a lot that your imagination can go with, like the elapsing of time when you’re in the supernatural world,” said Waats’daa. “When Naa-Naa-Samgit came back out of the other world, his whole village was gone. I played with that notion, and when our young couple returns in the film it is modern time. The young fisherman throws a rope to them and saves them from the killer whale. It’s a whole metaphor for bringing our culture closer to us, and showing how the stories we tell can bring us closer to our ancestors.”

Waats’daa directed a large team based in the National Film Board studio in Gastown. The two-year project included another writer, Annie Reid, and four other illustrators. Gid Guudgaang’s Nikita Auchter’s beautiful voice enriches the story with Haida song, and the film relied on help from Ginaawaan Darin Swanson, Jaalen Edenshaw, Kwiaahwah Jones, and the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program. Waats’daa’s mentor and kaaGa maternal uncle Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas contributed additional input, and his influence is apparent in the formline elements Waats’daa weaves throughout the film.

In creating The Mountain of SGaana, Waats’daa drew from his experiences working on other Indigenous animated short films such as Daniel Janke’s How People Got Fire (2008) and Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ Flight of the Hummingbird (2013). He is already scripting his next animated work, which will tell another Haida story.

The film premiered in Czech Republic before screening at festivals in Brazil and South Korea. It premiered on Turtle Island at the Ottawa International Animation Festival on September 23rd, where it won the award for “Best Animated Film or Series for Young Audiences Ages 6-12.”

Screenings:

5 + 12 October – Vancouver International Film Festival

October 2017 – Warsaw Film Festival (dates TBA)

October 2017 – ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, Toronto (dates TBA)

October 2017 – Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal (dates TBA)

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