Riparian Rhapsody

My first attempt at making a documentary.

I recently went out to Chilliwack to shoot a documentary with my friend Dana. Although she has no previous experience in film, she was really enthusiastic about the project and about me doing it with her. The initial impulse to do it came from a 5 minute Video Contest being held by the Fraser Valley Conservancy to address the unique wildlife in the Fraser Valley. Dana had the idea to do a film about manure spreading in Chilliwack, something we are both familiar with, having grown up in the ‘wack. Dana worked her contacts, getting us interviews, doing research and writing questions and I provided the camera and editing aspects of the project. Over the course of 4 days of filming interviews, creeks, wildlife and editing till our brains were mushy… we completed our 5 minute documentary called “Riparian Rhapsody.” We won the contest and got our film shown at the Mission Film Festival on October 2, 2010.

Our first interview was with Grant Kowalenko who is a soil research scientist. He told us about the effects that nutrification of the soil and water has on riparian areas, which are the small creeks and streams (aka ditches) that run alongside farms. Although there are guidelines about how much manure is allowed to be spread, how far away from these waterways it can be spread and what times of year it can be spread, anyone can see these areas are in trouble. They are commonly seen as ditches for a reason – they are so choked with plant life that wildlife (especially fish who use these streams to get to spawning areas) cannot get through.

Our second interview was with a couple who run Verard Farms, primarily a pork farm that is a participant in the Environmental Farm Plan. They told us about the Environmental Farm Plan and what it means for their business and speculated that there is no reason that everyone in the Fraser Valley shouldn’t be on it.

Our third interview was with Jeff Kooyman, one of the owners of the largest dairy farm in BC. They have 4000 cows so you can imagine they have a lot of manure to contend with! He told us about a compost-maker machine that they purchased last year. It converts manure into sawdust which can be used to bed the cows and reduces the amount of manure they have by more than a third. It also converts their manure so that it can be applied directly onto the ground, instead of through a ‘spray’-type machine, which can affect riparian areas more rapidly since the manure can be carried much further than intended by the wind.

We also interviewed some ‘local residents’ of the Chilliwack area to get their perspective. Unfortunately, we asked the wrong questions and cannot use any of their comments in the finished film.

In order to get images of wildlife, we visited the Blue Heron Reserve, the Cheam Wetlands and Island 22. We managed to see some rabbits, birds, frogs and even a snake! During editing, we were waiting for confirmation from Moby to use some of his free music, which is available to indie filmmakers. Although we had hoped to finish in three days, it just didn’t work out. I returned to Vancouver for a shift at work and then drove back to Chilliwack that night to complete the film. We got confirmation on our music and pulled an all-nighter to get everything just right. We finished our final export of the film in the morning, just in time for Dana’s boyfriend, Jordan, to wake up and watch it!

This was my first experience making a documentary and although we created even more of a challenge for ourselves by doing it in just 4 days, I think we both learned a lot. It is important to have clear and concise questions and know what you need from each person you interview, while being open to the opportunity for unexpected gems to come out. Know what your ‘thesis’ is and be sure to ask each person you interview to comment on that. This gives you a common thread within each interview that can help connect one part to the next, or be used as a conclusion or introduction to the topic. Get lots of ‘stock’ footage that you can place over top of interviewees answers. Sometimes their answers need to be edited down in length, or edited to remove the ums and ahs and you need something you can use to hide these edits and make it seamless.

I’m not sure if I will ever do another documentary or not. There were definite perks to working with such a small crew and not needing any money to produce it. I enjoyed the process even though it was really different from what I’m used to. On the other hand, I think my passion lives in creating characters and worlds of my own. One guess what my favorite genre of film/tv is…

FVC has put the video up online. See it here.

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