Home Article A Conversation with Nettie Wild

A Conversation with Nettie Wild

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Framing the Familiar in Unfamiliar Ways: Nettie Wild on Uninterrupted
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(June 1, 2017 – Vancouver, BC) Nettie Wild is known for creating documentaries that defy boundaries and shatter assumptions. Whether it’s addicts on the downtown East Side (FIX: The Story of an Addicted City), or Zapatistas (A Place Called Chiapas), or the land itself (Koneline: our land beautiful), her work is rich, diverse, and empathetic.

Pausing from the intense buildup to the launch of her latest project, Uninterrupted, Wild extolls the virtues of art-making rooted in curiosity and delight. Seven years in the making, it’s an exploration and celebration of the salmon run in BC and will be projected using the latest in digital technology underneath the Cambie Bridge in downtown Vancouver starting June 28th.

She describes how a walk on the Adams River led to this massive undertaking. “So I was on the banks of the Adams looking at this extraordinary, colossal moving art. The patterns of the migration are really moving and beautiful and mind boggling. In that moment as a human being I was really moved. As an artist I thought I want to do something with this. In thinking about it and talking it over with my editor Michael Brockington, we realized, you know what? This isn’t going into a cinema. Let’s take it outside of that, let’s create spectacle.”

Working with Rae Hull and long time producing partner Betsy Carson, Nettie Wild notes they are pushing the boundaries of documentary and inviting the public to participate in the story in a whole new way.

“It’s more than just distribution, it’s actually embracing a new way of storytelling for me. I think that this whole business of digital projection is beautifully suited for documentary,” she says, adding the salmon move in ways that are both mysterious and maddening. “I’ve got a cast of millions that doesn’t take direction. What we have going for us is this endless supply of wonder and surprise that comes from the natural world.”

Her voice rises with delight as she describes an early morning phone call from cinematic innovator Godfrey Reggio, director of Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. He was calling her to extol the artistic merit of Koneline. “In that conversation, I admitted to him, I had no idea where we were going, I jumped off a cliff and it was terrifying. I took a whole crew with me. He figured that was the definition of true art,” she says, adding he told her “in order to create art, you have to jump off a cliff in the knowledge that there will be a safety net.”

“It’s the creative solutions that you come up with making art,” she continues. “If you don’t step off into the unknown, then you will have something that’s predictable. It won’t be a surprise. If you don’t surprise yourself, you’re not going to surprise your audience. You really want that holy moment.” She also notes intuition plays a huge role in her decisions. “You just know when you hit juice.”

Salmon in the Sproat River during filming. Photo Credit: Nicolas Teichrob
At a time when fundraising emails and conservation efforts bombard our inboxes, a new term has emerged, empathy fatigue. For Wild, bringing freshness to the subject of conservation gets beyond that. “We can get way past that empathy fatigue and go completely into wonder. We find that the more we push it into the abstract, the more a general audience will eat it up.”

In addition to her zeal for storytelling, she has deepened her commitment to exploring the unknown and defying convention. “About seven years ago I decided that if I was going to stay in the game that I was going to make a little promise to myself and that I was going to with every project, push the form as much as I could as an artist and for myself. Our last film (Koneline) was certainly in that category and Uninterrupted is blowing the doors off it. None of us have dealt with this kind of form before. Even the editing system we’ve set up is completely unique for Uninterrupted,” she says.

Complementing the evening projections throughout the summer, Uninterrupted.ca is a hub of information and resources. Users can become more active in cleaning up streams in their communities, and names of those that participate will be projected on the bridge before the main event.

“Through art, we’re able to create a cinematic experience that is complex. It’s not a lecture. It scoops people up viscerally and takes them to what we hope will be a very delicious place for their eyes and for their ears.”

Her gusto for the potential in art to engage communities and foster connection is palpable as she talks about sustainability and the beloved BC salmon. “In these times, which are very controversial as we know, especially around this bigger project we all have which is to create a more sustainable planet and economy, art has a huge role to play,” she says. “A wack of the tail is carving the water into sculpture and the bubbles are turning into this amazing chrome like beauty. You can see the eyeball of the fish move. That action, that wonder, is revealed.”

Using Clairmont Flex Phantom underwater cameras, Wild and her crew were able to capture the salmon in a way that reveals so much more than a standard camera. “A regular camera films at 24 frames per second in terms of regular speed. This can film up to 2000. It can only film 4 seconds of real time. This is all part of pushing ourselves into the abstract. Pushing ourselves out of the familiar into framing the familiar with an unfamiliar frame,” she says.

As Koneline has been gathering laurels at festivals around the world, Wild is choosing to see the myriad tasks and details necessary to keep both pieces running smoothly as nourishing rather than draining.

“I’m kind of a one trick pony, so to have these two big projects at first was very difficult and schizophrenic. Then I decided I just needed to see both of them as a body of work and that one could feed the other. That allowed me to move into a space that didn’t feel like I was being torn apart.”

Her perspective keeps her exuberant and delighted: “I was biking into work the other day and thinking “I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do that,’ and I realized, how cool is this?”

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.