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VIFF 2015 Interview: FRACTURED LAND director Damien Gillis

by Jason Whyte

"Picture this: A young First Nations man dressed in a 3-piece suit, sporting a mohawk and tattoos; a briefcase in one hand, a tomahawk in the other. That's Caleb Behn, the hero of FRACTURED LAND. Caleb and his family are in the midst of some of the world's biggest "fracking" operations, in northeast BC, and they're deeply concerned about what it's doing to their land, waters, and culture. But it's complicated. Caleb's mom is a high-ranking executive in the oil and gas industry; his father a residential school survivor and staunch critic of industry. Caleb personifies the struggle Canada faces today; caught between competing pressures for job creation and environmental protection. In order to defend the people and land he loves most, he must be prepxared to leave them behind, to join the law and try to change the system from the inside. FRACTURED LAND is a timely film, taking viewers into the key conflicts shaping BC and Canada today, but it does so through through a deeply human story about a truly fascinating character.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

Both myself and my co-director Fiona Rayher are Vancouverites and have seen many films at VIFF, but this is our first time screening one of our own and we're excited to share it with our friends and family.

I'm really interested to hear about how FRACTURED LAND came together from your perspective.

I co-directed this film with Fiona Rayher. We set out five years ago to find a story surrounding the shale gas boom in northeast BC. My family works in the industry up there and Fiona had become concerned about the issue through the US film GASLAND. Early on, we were introduced to Caleb Behn who had worked on the front lines as an oil and gas officer and lands manager for several First Nations in the region. Caleb was not only extremely knowledgeable about the industry and his territory but willing to welcome us into his world. When I first met his grandfather, George Behn, we discovered that he and my own grandfather had been best friends as trappers and fur traders over 70 years ago, and I knew then that this was a story I needed to pursue. Fiona immediately recognized Caleb's charisma and compelling qualities, seeing him as an ideal central character for our film as opposed to making it another "issue" or "environmental" story. In the end, that's what makes FRACTURED LAND unique and entertaining.

We've also been blessed to have a wonderful group of collaborators helping us on the project - from our Executive producers Daniel Conrad, Charlotte Engel and Mark Ackbar, to our talented editor Jocelyne Chaput, our story editor Manfred Becker, and our composer Edo Van Breemen, who did a fantastic job with the score. Our broadcasters, especially CBC's Documentary Channel and BC's Knowledge Network, really made this all possible and we received terrific public support through a successful crowdfunding campaign.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you? How much coffee?

Sure, there has been plenty of coffee consumed on this production, but, and not to sound trite, it's really the drive to tell Caleb's story that has kept us motivated over the many years it took to complete FRACTURED LAND. When someone opens up their world, their most intimate moments and greatest struggles to you, you have a responsibility to honour that, and we hope that is what we've done with this film.

What was your biggest challenge with making FRACTURED LAND?

FRACTURED LAND was an epic undertaking for two first-time feature filmmakers, with loads of travel in rugged, remote places around northern BC, New Zealand, and the US. Our challenge was to keep the train on track, to make sure that our talented team had the resources they needed to do their jobs. We were dealing with a powerful industry that doesn't necessarily like being documented, but we also knew that we needed to build a very human story arc that would resonate with audiences. If it wound up being just another catalogue of environmental atrocities and carbon emissions, no one would want to see this film. So we had to stay focused on bringing Caleb's story to life.

Throughout the whole production, did you have a "greatest" moment? The "aha! We have something!" moment?

There was a moment in Ottawa, where Caleb had been invited to speak to Canada's top aboriginal leaders which was a rare honour for such a young man. The subject was energy issues and most of the other speakers were talking about securing a bigger piece of the pie for First Nations from oil sands pipelines and shale gas projects. Caleb walked up to the podium and delivered the most powerful speech of the conference. He reminded these leaders about the people on the ground, the grassroots, who would have to deal firsthand with the consequences of the decisions made by people in power. Instead of keeping the microphone to himself, he offered space to a young Indigenous woman from Elsipogtog, who had famously stood her ground against RCMP in combat gear, clearing a path for fracking on her territory. When Caleb introduced her, the crowd stood, transfixed. The two of them, together, changed the conversation. Filming this, I had shivers running down my spine. We were watching a leader being born before our eyes.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the tech side of the film and how it was captured with your cinematographer.

Fiona and I shot most of this film ourselves on DSLRs (Canon 5D MK II, MK III, 7D). These cameras enabled us to shoot run-and-gun and capture unique and intimate moments with Caleb and other characters. That's one of the great benefits of DSLRs compared with, say, a RED; though we began this before 4K was becoming the standard. We did have some important help too, with a terrific cinematographer, Adam Myhill, who expertly DP'ed a few trips and shoots for us, and Grant Baldwin (JUST EAT IT), who captured some amazing drone aerials for us. In both cases, we maintained an open dialogue about the shooting and were right there with them. They understood what we were looking for and did a great job delivering it.

Having been to VIFF in the past as a fiilmgoer, what are you excited the most about having your own film in Vancouver?

It's been a long time coming for FRACTURED LAND, which, despite themes and characters that resonate globally, is at its heart a BC film. Our many supporters have patiently waited a number of years to see it come to fruition and there is a palpable excitement now that the moment has arrived. We're thrilled to finally share FRACTURED LAND with Vancouver!

After the festival, where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?

FRACTURED LAND is also showing in early October at Calgary International Film Festival and Edmonton International Film Festival. It will broadcast premiere on CBC's Documentary Channel on November 11 at 7 PM EST/10 PM PST, and eventually on Knowledge Network in BC and in French on CBC's Explora channel in Quebec.

As well we are currently putting together a Canadian theatrical tour - stay tuned for more info at and through our social media.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Caleb's in the house and he brought his tomahawk.

Be sure to follow FRACTURED LAND online at, and on Twitter at @FracturedLand.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/22/15 07:22:41
last updated: 09/22/15 07:23:53
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