Elizabeth Yake presents environmental Doc Hadwin’s Judgement at Hot Docs

Doug Chapman is Grant Hadwin in Hadwin's Judgement

Doug Chapman is Grant Hadwin in Hadwin’s Judgement

Producer and WIFTV member Elizabeth Yake and Director Sasha Snow enter a controversial and relevant conversation with their documentary Hadwin’s Judgement, which premieres at the 2015 Hot Docs Festival.

Hadwin’s Judgement blends fact with fiction in a cinematic reenactment of Grant Hadwin’s life and work, most notoriously, his mysterious destruction of Haida Gwaii’s legendary Golden Spruce (Kiidk’yaas), a much-revered tree with golden-coloured needles due to a unique genetic mutation.

In the film, we meet Hadwin as a surveyor for the logging industry, tasked with flagging the most valuable and most rare trees in the vast BC rainforests in the late 80s and early 90s. He quickly learned the terrain and the mountains and felt peace amongst the quiet trees. He grew to love the lush, mystical forests. Soon, like a ticking time bomb, he was forced to digest his own complicity in the destruction of these habitats. Once conscious of this fact, he felt he had no other choice than to act out against the devastation that was happening around him. In a brutal, impulsive act of defiance in January of 1997, Hadwin damages the Golden Spruce so severely, that the tree collapses and dies. Hadwin tries to make a radical change but gets lost in the way he does it. His plan soon backfires and he is forced to flee society.

Through Grant Hadwin’s story, we are forced to confront the poignant and ethical debate of the logging industry in British Columbia. As the film charts the quickly disappearing rainforests of much of BC, we are asked to look critically at the land we inhabit and the value we ascribe to it.

Tanu, Haida Gwaii - Abandoned Village, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

Tanu, Haida Gwaii – Abandoned Village, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

One question that permeates the film is this: to whom do these lands belong? Indigenous people have lived here far longer than Canadian settlers. Their tribes have led a harmonious and peaceful life with the land, taking only what they need and leaving enough for tomorrow.

The documentary focuses on regions inhabited by the Haida people, who live in a kin-centric value system, respecting and loving all living creatures around them. They do not see themselves as masters of the land, but rather see all living beings as equal in value, and strive to create a symbiotic relationship with the animals and nature that surround them.

The film enters a conversation about the ethics of land distribution in Canada. This topic is inevitably written in the politics of settler colonialism. Despite retributions made to apologize for the violence done to Indigenous people historically here in Canada, a power hierarchy is still present today that privileges the white man and oppresses Indigenous communities.

In the logging industry, land is being destroyed without the consent of the people who own that land – in the film’s case, the Haida people. This is a major problem. And although Hadwin tries to take things into his own hands, it may be important to look critically at how a white voice may not be the right voice to speak for the politics of Indigenous lands. By speaking out, Hadwin may have been silencing Haida voices that may have been better versed on the topic.

Although I feel the Haida voices are under-represented the story still captures a beautiful disaster that has seldom been entertained in film, and enters a conversation that few are brave enough to tackle. Hadwin’s Judgement adds a layer of nuance to the ethics of forestry of British Columbia. It exposes the causalities of globalization and capitalization in the quickly growing western world. It shows the strength and bravery of a man who tried to spread awareness on the injustice that was being done, and the tragedy he faced in the process.

Elizabeth Yake at #VIWIFF2015. Photo by Livio Maynard

Elizabeth Yake at #VIWIFF2015. Photo by Livio Maynard

Producer Elizabeth Yake is essential in making this thrilling story come to life. Despite the challenges of a 45-day shoot (nearly the length of 2 features) deep in the lush forests of BC, Yake’s hard, dedicated work shines through in the amazing production value, enticing interviews and beautiful locations.

“I think that our intention was not to take a side, our intention was really just to tell the story as we knew it,” Yake explains. However, with such a political topic, the film did impact the producer at times: “The thing that was quite sad for me was the fact that Hadwin didn’t really understand the sign of the Golden Spruce for the Haida people.”

Yake’s unwavering devotion to the project coupled with Snow’s gift of storytelling make for an incredible project.

Yake is a true role model for young female filmmakers looking to make it in the male-dominated industry. Working in four or five films right now with prominent female filmmakers, Yake has made it her priority to work with women. Her company is called True West Films.

When I asked her what the most important piece of advice to young women is, she said, “If you’re a filmmaker and you have something to say, put your thought out there. Women should be much more bold and not be afraid to tackle big tasks.

Although it is very difficult for women to build a career with the systemic barriers they face in film, it is not impossible. And Yake is a shining example of the reward and success young female filmmakers can attain if they put their minds to it. Yake tells me, “I don’t think anyone is more stubborn than me, and I think that that has enabled me to make films. Even during difficult climates, nothing stands in my way.”

By Zoe Arthur

Zoe Arthur is a UBC film production student, minoring in gender, race, sexuality and social justice. She writes about social issues in a critical, feminist framework and aims to show how film can be a powerful tool for social change.

Hadwin’s Judgement plays three times at the prestigious HotDocs Canadian International Documentary Festival, on April 27, 29 and 30, 2015. The Film is an international co-production between PASSION PICTURES and TRUE WEST FILMS, in association with THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA.

Elizabeth Yake is presenting a WIFTV-Creative BC workshop about how to best prepared to attend film festival markets and how to best follow up with the valuable contacts made during festival, on Saturday, May 23rd in Vancouver. Guest speakers, entertainment lawyer-producer Kim Roberts and publicist Kathryn Perkins will join the afternoon session. For further information and registration, click here

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