An Uninterrupted Conversation with Artist Nettie Wild

Nettie Wild's latest film project delivers environmental philosophy.  Uninterrupted  was produced with assistance from Alliance members City of Vancouver, Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation, and Tourism Vancouver. (Photo: Michael McKinlay).

Nettie Wild's latest film project delivers environmental philosophy. Uninterrupted was produced with assistance from Alliance members City of Vancouver, Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation, and Tourism Vancouver. (Photo: Michael McKinlay).

by Nancy Lanthier

In fairy tales, if you look under a bridge, you'll find a troll. In Vancouver this summer, if you look under the Cambie Bridge, you’ll discover giant fish swimming on its vast underbelly. The False Creek waters below once teemed with salmon, and Vancouver filmmaker Nettie Wild brings them back in her projected cinematic spectacle Uninterrupted. Underwater footage of spawning salmon flows across the bridge's entire expanse to a fantastic soundtrack of deep water ambience and electronic music by Owen Belkin (sound creator for international sensation Betroffenheit, by BC Alliance for Arts + Culture members Kidd Pivot and Electric Theatre Company). At times, the sea life churns into the abstract and psychedelic, fish eyes and bright orange roe bopping and pulsing. It's astounding and massive, and watching from under the bridge, it feels all-encompassing. 

Uninterrupted takes a test run. Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

Uninterrupted takes a test run. Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

Wild's award-winning films, including Koneline: Our Land Beautiful (currently screening across Canada), Fixed: The Story of An Addicted City (2002) and A Place Called Chiapas (1998) explore politically charged issues. The wordless Uninterrupted delivers environmental philosophy. The incredible phenomenon of the salmon spawn has happened uninterrupted, since time immemorial — and will continue to do so unless humans interrupt.  

Twenty-five minutes of natural wonder, Uninterrupted screens Tuesday to Saturday, Jun. 28 to Sept. 24, at Coopers' Park — thanks to a number of partners and sponsors including Alliance members City of VancouverVancouver Board of Parks & Recreation and Tourism Vancouver.  

A day before the launch, let’s get to know Nettie Wild.  

What inspired you to create Uninterrupted? I saw the extraordinary 2010 migration of sockeye salmon in the Adams River — the biggest migration in recorded history — and it changed my life. Just witnessing such a huge, fundamental heartbeat of nature was absolutely overwhelming. But as an artist, it was like looking at a colossal moving abstract art piece. I just really felt compelled to bring the heart of that river to the heart of my city.

Why the Cambie Bridge? There’s a big international movement around public projection. In Europe, Australia, Asia, artists are projecting on all these huge façades: the sails of the Sydney Opera House, on the Louvre. So we took our bikes around Vancouver — and kept running into building after building of green glass. Well, that’s not going to work. And then we saw the bridge. It was perfect, one of those extraordinary Marshall McLuhan moments: If the medium is the message, then we have two mediums. The fish, a cast of millions, none of whom take direction, and the bridge over water that once choked with salmon.  

Biggest technical challenge? In the river, we made decision that the camera had to be absolutely static, as if on a tripod, so that you could see the current and the light as well as the fish moving past. However, you try being underwater in a roaring river with a 150-pound camera and finding a stable position. Another big challenge was getting images from our computer onto the bridge. That was Anthony Diehl’s job. They call him a creative technologist; I call him a wizard.

Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

What do you look for in a great film? Works that push the form so that there’s a surprise in the storytelling.

Best film you’ve seen recently? One of my favourite films of all time is Before Nightfall, by Julian Schnabel, with Javier Bardem depicting the life of a gay Cuban poet. A knockout. More recently on a very different level: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Talk about completely blowing your mind. Only watch it with a friend; it’s very hard to watch.   

Most important issue facing the arts and culture community today? I think during these controversial times art has a real role to play — more so than ever — and that’s because art is able to embrace complexity. It’s time for artists to step up to the plate, be insightful, and to cut through the dumbing down of things.

Favourite place in Vancouver? Larson Bay in West Vancouver. That’s where I grew up. Every summer day at 5:00, my mother, my father, myself and my dog would go for a swim in the bay. It’s in my DNA.

What most appeals to you about the work you do? Taking risks side by side with other extraordinary artists and being surprised at what we find.

What are you most looking forward to? Conversations with people under the bridge after they’ve seen Uninterrupted.

What does your perfect day look like? Making art with friends. 

Advice for filmmakers in the early stages of their career? Listen to your instincts and don’t let the talk in your head dismiss them.

Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

Photo: Michael J.P. Hall.

Talent you're most proud of? I’m a good storyteller.

Name another local filmmaker whose work you admire. My editor, Michael Brockington. Everybody thinks in terms of the director, but I think he is the most exciting cinema artist in the province and possibly in country right now. I can’t tell you what a thrill it’s been to be in the editing room for a year with Konelina and then a year with Uninterrupted. It’s intoxicating. His work is stunning.

Most exciting current development in your art world? We used Oculus Rift headsets as an editing tool. It was a way we could get under the bridge, because we couldn’t afford to throw up eight projectors to test something. And I’m really intrigued with where we go from here with virtual reality, especially in terms of abstract imagery. I think we might be onto creating a new genre, this whole other 3D art space. I’m hungry to explore this kind of front

Who has influenced you? This particular work was influenced by Robert Lepage’s Image Mill, a massive projection he created in Quebec City, in 2008. Also environmental artist Christo has captured my imagination lately.

Describe the first time you were moved by a work of art. When I was young, I saw the Joffre Ballet and remember thinking that I had died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was spectacle. It was choreographed and danced and lit as the most extraordinary theatre you could imagine. I was about 14 and I think my chromosomes must have changed seeing that work.

It’s Saturday night. How are you likely to spend it? Under the bridge. Looking up. Not at the stars.  

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? I’d like to go to India and follow in my father’s footsteps, who, as a young journalist followed the story of Gandhi. The other is completely different. I would love to spend two months in the Four Corners, rafting down the Colorado and into the Grand Canyon.

Style of music you most often listen to? Owen Belkin’s music and contemporary new music. I also really like people who storytell, so Nina Simone, Lila Downs.

Three words to describe yourself? I’m happy. Some people say I’m driven, but I think I’m really focused. And much to my chagrin, I’m very chaotic. That may sound contradictory, but they can exist in the same person, I can assure you.

Best time you’ve had in your life? Riding through the lower Spectrum Mountain Range, with a guide and four best friends. We were on horseback for 14 days.  

What do you think of most often? Of course, work is huge, so often my mind is completely taken with it — waking up in the morning with a shopping list of things that I have to do. But what saves me from myself is light. Light really affects me. I see it as I walk through the day. It really, happily interjects, pulling me out of the details of my life. And luckily it does it time and time again.

What are you most proud of? In equal parts, all the films I’ve made and I’m really proud of all the friendships I’ve made. 

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