Film review: Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World

Part of a series of reviews for films from the 2016 Kamloops Film Festival



The Kamloops Film Festival got started with a bang with a sold-out showing of Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World. The line for pass and ticket holders went down the block and they decided to host a second showing a half hour after the first in the second theatre to accommodate all the people. At the showing they announced they would do the same for The Lady in the Van on Saturday, for which they also expected a sold-out showing.

Haida Gwaii is a beautiful documentary. The stunning sweeping crane shots of the island and close-ups of the amazing wildlife and people are on par with big budget documentaries like Planet Earth. There are a few shaky-cam moments that break the general camera style, but they only serve to bring the viewer and the film back down to Earth.

Haida Gwaii starts by showing you some of the issues facing Haida Gwaii, how it has addressed them in the past and the people from different walks of life that are working to keep Haida Gwaii’s environmental integrity.

The film touches on the historical relationship between settlers and the Haida Nation, sustainable energy, food production and much more without sounding preachy. Instead of leaving you feeling negative, as many documentaries advocating social action do, Haida Gwaii feels more like a celebration of the place. In the film Haida Gwaii is almost a Shangri-La where people have figured out how to make a living off natural resources without depleting them.

The documentary makes great use of quiet, something many talk docs fail to do. Everything you hear in the film is selected with care, which gives it more significance. It is told through the voices of people on Haida Gwaii, and does not rely on a narrator.

The final scene is incredibly moving as we see the different people we meet throughout come together to erect a totem pole that we watched get carved periodically throughout the film. The swell of positive emotion you feel watching everyone celebrate afterwards is enough to make you want to move there and join the good fight.