Searching for Gagiid’s home

Gwaai Edenshaw sharing his artistic vision for the film on the beach at T’aalan Stl’ang by pointing out sites where crew could set up.

Rhonda Lee McIsaac —

Haida Gwaii is being scouted for locations that will star in a feature film which is to begin shooting this fall. The dramatic landscapes will provide a setting for one of Haida Gwaii’s most famous characters, Gagiid.

As the centrepiece of the film’s story, a young Haida hero falls from favour when he commits a reckless crime. After his family leaves him for dead in Haida Gwaii’s coastal rainforest, he is transformed into a voracious creature that must scrounge for his survival through the winter. Re-emerging into his community the next autumn as Gagiid, will the strength of his friendships be enough to redeem him and his family, or will his newfound enemies track him down to seize reprisal?

The film script, written by Haida writers Gwaai Edenshaw, Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Leonie Sandercock and co-directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Jaadaa gyaahlaanay Helen Haig-Brown, will feature Haida actors speaking Xaad kil. It is being produced by Isuma Productions which made the Inuit Fast Runner trilogy in Nunavut.

On a picture perfect day, the Haida Fisheries boat Skilay shuttled an advance film crew from Masset to T’aalan Stl’ang via K’yuusda village in search of Gagiid’s home.

“My role will be to steer the direction of the production towards a Haida aesthetic,” said Gwaai Edenshaw, co-director of the film. “I look forward to working with Jaadaa gyaahlaanay,” he said. “Even at these early stages I feel like our visions are complimentary, and we have been dead-on, on an uncanny number of specifics. Jaadaa gyaahlaanay’s experience in film is very strong.”

Jaadaa gyaahlaanay Helen Haig-Brown is Tsilhqot’in and originally from Williams Lake, BC. She now lives in Masset with her husband and daughter. Jaadaa gyaahlaanay has been adopted into the Staastas clan. She is an award winning documentary filmmaker.

The directors job is to oversee how the film will look and sound, which makes location scouting important. Jaadaa gyaahlaanay says that location determines how the story will be visually told. The director also ensures that the location works for the actors who have to travel, live and work in the locations where the movie is being filmed.

Gwaai’s big smile is evident through his beard as the trip progresses across the north shore of Haida Gwaii and the land and ocean are splendidly highlighted, as if auditioning for the director. He shares with the crew various stories and facts about the sites along the way including Pillar Rock, Jaalan, Naden Harbour and T’aalan Stl’ang.

Also on this trip is Line Producer Cara DiStaulo who is busy taking photographs of the locations and discussing the logistics of the film. The Line Producer is the administrative and logistics manager for the film production.

Producer Jonathan Frantz manages the film from beginning to end. He is also in charge of the overall budget of the film.

“I ensure that there is a film at the end of the process,” he says, with a tired smile across his face after he’d walked along white beaches, through tide pools along the rocky shore and rough forest trails. His experience came through as he discussed camera shots and the quality of light throughout the days walk.

Location scouting makes the script real in the minds of the film makers. “I can imagine characters running around. I can imagine locations and picture angles,” he said, as he lugged around a 20-pound handheld camera. He and Edenshaw film visual rationales for certain locations highlighting the light and sound in that location.

To finally be seeing the land that inspired Edenshaw gave Frantz a cathartic release which had been building up over two years of thinking about the film.

“You can feel thousands of years of occupation,” Frantz said, and at one point crawled into an uprooted fallen tree and poked his head out of the root clumps like Gagiid may do. That had the crew swinging their cameras to capture the moment.

“The forest is magical at K’yuusda”, said Line Producer DiStaulo, and the walk to T’aalan Stl’ang opens up like a fairy tale onto the beach and Pacific Ocean.

With each step into the forest the film becomes more real for the crew and the search for Gagiid’s home narrows.

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