We Found Hope on Haida Gwaii

Director and Producer Charles Wilkinson reflects on his film Haida Gwaii: On The Edge Of The World and explains his search for a story about the planet’s delicate and beautiful ecosystem.


Charles Wilkinson is the writer/director of a large body of dramatic & documentary film.  His documentary Down Here received critical and audience success on the international festivals. Peace Out was the official opening film at the 2012 Global Visions festival, awarded Most Popular Canadian Documentary at the 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize for Canadian Documentary, at Hot Docs 2012. Oil Sands Karaoke had its world premiere at Hot Docs in 2013, won Best Documentary and Best Director at the Yorkton Film Festival and is currently touring the international festival circuit. Charles’ recent feature documentary, Haida Gwaii on the Edge of the World premiered April 2015 at Hot Docs and won the Top Award “Best Canadian Feature Documentary”. It is a film that just might point to some solutions to our global sustainability dilemma.

Haida Gwaii: On The Edge Of The World had its DC premiere at the 24th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. The film screening took place at National Museum of Natural History on Saturday, March 26th at noon.


DCEFF: What drew you to this particular project?

CHARLES WILKINSON: My filmmaking & life partner Tina Schliessler & I had done 2 previous films about environmental issues (both programmed by DCEFF), Peace Out and Oil Sands Karaoke.  Both films, like most environmental films were pretty depressing.  We were looking for a story that showed some reasonable degree of hope.  Hope for the delicate & beautiful ecosystem of the planet and for the human species.  We found that hope on Haida Gwaii.

DCEFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

CW: The challenges are pretty hard to describe in a paragraph.  This North Pacific coast archipelago is often a tough environment to work in with sensitive equipment.  The weather, the remoteness, the lack of amenities and so forth.  But the greater challenge by far was finding and securing the trust of key residents who could express what is so significant about the place in terms other than, you know – it’s awesome, love it here, best place ever, etc.  The things that make Haida Gwaii really important to look at are both subtle and elusive.  On top of that, 1st Nations people have grown wary of non-native people who come in with projects that require their cooperation.  Rightly so,  1st Nations have been taken horrible advantage of by exploitive interlopers bent on extracting profit regardless of the costs in human suffering.  So there was that hurdle as well.  But ultimately, Haida Gwaiians, both native and non-native came to trust Tina and I and extended amazing hospitality.

DCEFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important? Why should people attend?

CW: To become informed.  Winston Churchill famously said: “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.”  Clearly, Mr. Churchill is talking about uninformed voters.  Many believe that the incredibly persuasive force of the infinitely wealthy corporate/government complex discourages the ‘average voters’ from seeking out clear, informed logic on the issues of the day.  And yeah, it’s worked pretty well for them.  But in part because of efforts by organizations like yours, more and more people are being given an opportunity to see the plight of our natural world.  The fact that you can have a film festival like this, and have people choose to watch films like these  – rather than the football game – is proof to me that maybe we’re not totally screwed.

DCEFF: How does your film relate to this year’s theme: “Parks: Protecting Wild?”

CW: Haida Gwaii: On The Edge Of The World is the story of the creation of one of the world’s top 10 national parks – Gwaii Haanas, a park that’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

DCEFF: What’s the one takeaway that you want potential viewers to walk away with?

CW: The main point I hope audiences will take away is that the positive & inspiring changes the Haida Gwaiians are making, the changes we all must make – for the rest of us to effect these changes doesn’t mean that we all have to switch to a diet of 100% kale, walk everywhere, and live in caves.  It’s actually kind of the opposite.  The people we worked with on Haida Gwaii have way more fun now they’re not earning huge resource bucks and spending those on big ticket toys.  When you add up all the hours in the day most of us devote to acquiring, using, maintaining, protecting and disposing of consumer goods that we could easily live without – imagine what we could do with that time.  What the forward-thinking Haida Gwaiians do is spend time talking to each other instead of stabbing away at that hopeless little screen.  They source amazing food.  They have dinner parties for each other.  They spend time in the natural world.  And the stress level, the fear level we see rising so dramatically everywhere else – not here.  We could do that.  Everywhere you go – nature is there.


Register for the Haida Gwaii: On The Edge Of The World screening here.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more film and event updates. Follow #DCEFF to stay connected with the Festival.