Hot on the heels of a world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, Now Is The Time (Waaydanaa), the new short film by Burnaby-based Haida artist and filmmaker Christopher Auchter (BMA 2002), will show at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The film tells the story of internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson, who, in 1969 at age 22, was instrumental in changing the history of his people when a totem pole he had carved was raised above Old Massett in Haida Gwaii – the first totem pole to be raised there in almost a century.
More than a century previous, Haida Gwaii's Old Massett Village had been home to a number of totem poles, bristling up from the coastal landscape, facing out to sea. During visits to museums in Vancouver, Davidson had seen photographs of that past – a past which scarcely resembled his home in the 1960s, where no such totem poles still existed.
For Davidson, the absence of those towering carvings which had been razed and destroyed drove home the erosion of Haida ways of life more broadly; Haida songs, ceremonies, and culture had also been obliterated.
“I would go and visit the elders, and they seemed really, like, not connecting to anything,” he says. “I could feel the sadness, and I wanted to create an occasion for them to celebrate one more time.”
With help from his grandparents, his father, and his younger brother Reg, Davidson set out to carve his community's first new totem pole in almost a century.
"On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village gathered to celebrate an event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit," reads the introduction to the film.
"Resplendent with original footage shot by what was then known as the NFB’s Indian Film Crew, Now Is The Time is filled with archival images, animation, and emotional interviews with Robert, Reg, and Haida scholar Barbara Wilson.
The film’s bright, kaleidoscopic scenes show women dancing in their bare feet, men egging each other on, elders wearing paper headdresses, and children drawn in gorgeous watercolour hues. Everywhere is the sound of laughter and tears, as three generations of Eagle and Raven clan come together to raise the pole in the old way, inching it higher and higher, until it stands proud and strong against the clear blue sky."
The film captures Davidson reflecting in his studio, smiling at the memory of the event which took place a half-century ago.
“I was just a young smart-aleck kid thinking I was going to teach the elders something, but it turned around,” he says. “It was the other way around.”
Now Is The Time (Waaydanaa) is showing as part of VIFF 2019 at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas on Oct. 3 at 9:30pm, and on Oct. 10 at 8:30pm. Christopher Auchter will be in attendance at both showings. Tickets can be purchased by following this link.