Opening a Shutter
Human Rights Film festival turns 20
What: BHRFF Opening
When: 6 pm Thu., Feb. 20 -28
Where: Pickford Film Center
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
“I wanted to get some of it on film before it was gone,” Darrell Hillaire said simply of the once-mighty sockeye run on the Fraser River.
Runs had been poor for the past several seasons, but signs suggested a stonger cycle had returned. Old hands, strong voices were leaving the fisheries. Their voices, their knowledge of an ancient way needed to be captured before it was lost.
The technical challenges of filmmaking were great for Children of the Setting Sun, the small production house formed by Hillaire. The international boundary proved to be an iron curtain, separating families and cousins by the artifice of an imaginary line. The connectedness of the land and its people was becoming vapor. Of the several films Hillaire has recently made, Salmon People was perhaps his company’s most exacting to produce—a true of labor of love.
The work was important, capturing and preserving, then sharing the knowledge and traditions that are held in Coast Salish communities, detailing the importance of salmon to the land and its people.
Hillaire, a tribal elder and former chairman of Lummi Nation, named his filmmaking company in honor of his great-grandfather Frank Hillaire, who started a Children of the Setting Sun Dance Group to share stories of Lummi Nation through dance and spirituality. The name carries a tradition of teaching through collaborative performance art.
The resulting film—which grew more expansive and comprehensive through the gathering of documentary footage—is a kaleidoscope of colors, the pinks and silvers of sockeye and chum salmon. As it spools out onscreen, the film suggests a way of life that is not lost.
“It’s important that our young ones here stand next to our fishermen and know who they are and what they do,” Hillaire said at a recent screening. “I hope that someday the young ones will be able to fish, too.”
That message of hope runs strong through this year’s collection of films at the annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival; but there’s also a dire warning that time may be growing short and our moment to act is now.
Already plans are underway that could increase by hundreds the number of ships in the waterways of the Fraser Delta and Salish Sea, pressuring wildlife we already know is under great stress and decline due to vessel traffic.
Director Michael Peterson details other pressures in our coastal waters in his film Dammed to Extinction. He has agreed to answer questions about his film at the opening of the festival, as have other selected directors.
At its inception, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival documented the human condition in often far-off and frequently war-torn areas of the globe. Twenty years on, this the lens has zoomed in much, much closer to home to stories of personal crisis and desperate acts of triumph, and outward to the natural world that sustains us and is threatened by us. The world of rights abuses has become more personal, more inclusive in its confession that destructive forces are growing and becoming more intimate in our lives. Even societies that appear at peace are crippled by a different kind of war.
We’re not winning. But we still may, if we learn and remember.
For film times and venues: http://www.bhrff.webs.com
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