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concordia 18/02/2014 - 11:00AM

Guest Blog: Two Eco-docs from BC

This is an audience guest blog from filmmaker and former journalist Boyce Richardson, who regularly attends Cinema Politica Concordia screenings. This post originally appeared on Richardson's own blog, and is republished here with the consent of the author.

Cinema Politica Concordia last night showed two superb documentaries about efforts necessary to save the magnificent wild regions and wildlife of British Columbia.  The first of these,  Rainforest: the Limit of Splendour was made by a Vancouver native, Richard Boyce, who has devoted his life to making films that pinpont the insouciant brutality of capitalism towards the splendid  natural environment of that province.

This film showed logging practices so outrageous (and yet, so much taken for granted by the powers-that-be), that I felt sick at heart long before it ended, not least because exactly thirty years ago I was involved in filming something of this same story for a film I made about the history of Canada’s National Parks.

Distressing though it was to see the same practices going on as 30 years ago, when there was a massive mobilization of caring people whose aim was to stop the logging of the beautiful rainforest of Clayquot Sound, and of Meares Island, the large island within the Sound, remarkably enough, the second film, dealing with the spread of disease among wild salmon, was just as distressing, and even more infuriating because of what it showed about the corruption of our federal government. (Harper out!)

This film was called Salmon Confidential, made by a young filmmaker named Twyla Roscovich, who lives on the water in British Columbia and makes no doubt of her purposes in calling her production company Calling From the Coast, a company specializing in marine ecology films  that are directed at all of us across the country, and elsewhere.

Each of these films exposes a shocking derogation of duty by our governments, and the sole comfort to be drawn from them is that they also reveal the existence of convinced, and one might almost say, fanatical young men and women determined to expose the wrong-doing that is threatening such precious natural inheritance as the rainforest and the wild salmon, and who are ready to devote their lives to this cause.

For the sake of clarity, I should take these films separately, although their combined message is devastating and coherent: they belong together in that sense.
Let’s begin with the salmon film. Its thesis is that, originating from fish farms in Norway that have sold their products to fish farms in the Western Hemisphere, including to Canada’s West Coast, severe fish diseases have taken hold in the fish farms that now line the route of most of the best salmon runs along the BC coast.

Hundreds of thousands of fish have been found to have died before they had a chance to spawn. (It should be explained for those who don’t know that salmon, spawned in these wild rivers, go out to sea for two years, and return to the place they were born, there to spawn before dying.)

The question asked in this film by biologist Alexandra Morton, is, what is killing the salmon? She suspects, because the death patterns follow the pattern of fish farms established along the channels, that the diseases occur within the fish farms and spread out into neighbouring waters, where they infect wild salmon as they return to make their heroic battle upstream in rivers that are running as a flood against them.

I never thought such a subject would interest me, by Ms Roscovich, with Ms Morton’s lively help, succeeds in making it interesting. She names various diseases, salmon leukemia, ISA (infectious salmon aenemia), and piscine reovirus. The last of these is particularly relevant, because it results in muscle inflammation of the heart and skeleton, in other words, it makes the heart so weak and flabby that the fish are simply not healthy enough to win the fight upstream to their spawning places.

Alexandra Morton was an independent biologist studying whales in a small archipelego when the fish farmers came to her area, and she set out, if possible, to discover the causes of the salmon deaths that followed. What the film reveals is that three of the four laboratories qualified to discover the pathogens the fish were suffering from, did identify one or other of the named diseases in significant samples. The one that didn’t was a government lab whose account of what it saw was quite unconvincing. Meantime, the government made strenuous efforts to deny the validity of the results obtained in the three other labs, firmly gagging the leading BC authority, who happens to work for the federal government, Dr. Kristi Miler, and trying to destroy a lab in Prince Edward Island that works for an international agency.

Alex Morton was, however, determined. Fish farm operators refused to have their fish tested, an indication that they must have known they were diseased, as one participant in the film said. Morton even went to the almost ludicrous length of spotting an eagle holding a fish in its claws and sitting on the edge of a fish farm railing, following the eagle when it took off until it dropped the fish, and then moving in and scooping up the fish, which, of course, when tested, proved to be diseased.


Denied the cooperation of labs influenced by the government she scoured supermarkets for salmon that seemed to have been suffering from one or other of the diseases, and had them tested. She rounded up hundreds of dead fish from salmon runs, tested 11 of them, and found three that were suffering from the dread diseases.

Finally, discouraged by the blackout from both industry and government --- these two agencies had proven to be great pals, the government paying $100 million in compensation to fish farmers for the losses they suffered through diseases, diseases which, incidentally, the government refused its scientists permission to test, ---- Morton, with the support of Roscovich, has established what she calls the Department of Wild Salmon, her colorful way of suggesting that all citizens have to consider themselves allies in the fight to save wild salmon, taking over the job from the having sold out to private interests.

This new Department, so-called, will engage in the fight to free the issue from government gagging, and to persuade the provincial government to exercise its powers to close down the fish farms.

The reasons I found myself sick at heart as I watched the second of these two wonderful documentaries, the one about the Rainforest:Limit of Splendour, is probably because I remembered only too vividly the shooting we did in 1984 when we managed to persuade the bureaucrats overseeing the centenary of the National Parks the following year, that the movement to create a national park in the Queen Charlotte Islands was sufficiently relevant  to the subject as to be included in a filmed history of the National Parks. Since the area was not yet a national park, I hope readers can understand how difficult it must have been for these bureaucrats to make such an unusual concession.

Anyway, we flew out to BC, and on the way to the Queen Charlottes we stopped off at a demonstration being held to protest against the proposal to clear-cut the glorious Clayquot Sound, and Meares Island that stands in the sound.  I will never forget flying in a bumpy little single-engine plane on a day of boisterous weather, over the Sound, and coming upon clear-cuts already done --- massive, mountainside-wide clearcuts which left only the huge detritus customary in such clearcutting, and the crumbling logging roads snaking hither and yon across the mountainside. How depressing, I thought.

Later we embarked on a sailing schooner operated by a young couple through the Queen Charlottes, and filmed the glorious places revealed to us for several days. There we had an opportunity to walk in one of these BC rainforests, a bewildering, awe-inspiring collage of fallen trees, organisms that had built on them and around them, and towering monsters that had withstood the vagaries of nature for hundreds of years.  Logging was going on there, too, and more was planned, which gave the decision about whether or not to create a park added urgency.

The film I saw last night shows such a forest in its full glory. Richard Boyce has lived with such forests since he was a child, and his love of them resulted in this beautiful film in their honour. One could not help feeling, by the film’s end, that it proved one thing above all else: this capitalist economic system with its insistence in devouring  the finest products of nature, simply cannot last. Eventually we as a species will run up against the law of diminishing returns, and when that happens radical changes in our style of life must follow.

Richard Boyce pays tribute to the relationship with the forest maintained by the First Nations people, and uses as an interlocutor Chief Adam Dick, an old man from the Kwagiulth people, who told of how his father, when taking down a tree, would first talk to it and make his peace with it.

But in another part of the film, he, too, admitted to having killed many, many trees when he took a job as a logger, something he did just to earn money, to feed his family.  This shows how it is not simply a question of our having lost a real feel for nature, of the kind that Richard Boyce so clearly has, for even a population with such tenacious roots and beliefs as the indigenous people can be persuaded to violate what they know to be best for the forest and therefore for themselves.

I remember with gratitude the struggle asgainst the logging of Clayquot Sound thirty years ago, the selflessness of the hundreds of people who put themselves on the line for their cause, who got arrested for their devotion, and many of whom suffered harsh penalties. And how could I watch such a picture without thinking of my old friend, the late Coleen McCrory, a fanatic defender of the BC forest, and a persistent pain in the ass to governments, who succeeded in having a number of provincial parks established, so turning back the horde of loggers and their customers.

As we saw again in this film, when it comes to the point, the government, backed by its armed forces, its armed police and even if necessary its army, always supports the power of the money that has placed them in power.

So the struggle for the rainforest, just like the struggle for the wild salmon, is left to individuals who are, it is to be hoped, committed, enough.

Since the film was made Prime Minister Harper has invited Norwegian fish farms to expand on BC’s coast, a decision against the advice given him by his own federal commission of inquiry (set up as a result of the public pressure in BC), and against the advice of his own officials (Harper out!).

 

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