Haida Modern documentary focuses on artist Davidson’s career

What: Haida Modern
Where: The Vic Theatre (808 Douglas St.)
When: Sunday, Feb. 16, 7:45 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out

Haida Modern has been on a hot streak of late, and if film-festival feedback is anything to go on, the wins will continue in coming weeks.

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Director Charles Wilkinson’s evocative documentary about Haida artist Robert Davidson recently won best Canadian documentary at Yukon’s Available Light Film Festival, the same trophy it took home from the Vancouver International Film Festival in October.

With upcoming screenings at the Shuswap Film Festival in Salmon Arm, the Kamloops Film Festival and Oregon’s Portland International Film Festival, Haida Modern stands to enjoy a serious second life when it begins its theatrical run later this year.

Haida Modern will also be shown Sunday night at the Vic Theatre, making it the final film screened during this year’s Victoria Film Festival. Wilkinson and Davidson will both be in attendance.

“He loves travelling with the film,” Wilkinson said of Davidson. “I’ve been to an awful lot of film festivals where you participate in talks with the audience, and with Robert, it’s just a dream, because nobody wants to talk to me.”

The groundswell of support for the film — which is sold-out on Sunday — has been huge, and Wilkinson is prepping for the run of publicity that will surround it when Haida Modern hits select Western Canadian theatres (including the Vic Theatre and Cinecenta at the University of Victoria) in May.

Toronto filmmaker Sami Khan was up for an Academy Award last week for his documentary short St. Louis Superman, the latest in a series of high-profile documentaries to come out of Canada that could include Haida Modern if things fall into place.

“There is such a strong, growing demand for Canadian documentaries,” Wilkinson said.

“It’s not uncommon at all to see people line up around the block to see a Canadian documentary. We haven’t had as much with drama, but documentaries are coming on really strong now.

The Vancouver-based Wilkinson and his co-creator, Tina Schliessler, met Davidson — who splits his time between Masset and White Rock — when they were making the 2015 documentary Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World.

They struck up a quick friendship, which led to the creation of Haida Modern and its intimate look at Davidson’s life and career.

“Looking around, we are faced with Indigenous artwork and Indigenous cultural artifacts on an almost constant basis,” Wilkinson said.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, that wasn’t the case. There has been a real surge in that imagery; it’s everywhere now. I was curious to know what sort of things caused that. And looking into it, I very quickly realized it started with Robert Davidson pounding away on a log as a kid in Masset.”

Wilkinson believes the film will add to the wave of popularity surrounding Indigenous art, which Davidson had a hand in reviving.

Well-known in art circles for years, he is considered a living legend by collectors of First Nations paintings, carvings and sculpture, and frequently receives commissions for major pieces for private collectors — such as the 22-foot cedar he is seen carving in Haida Modern.

His work is showcased in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, and he has had several key exhibitions in Victoria. He is often mentioned alongside iconic sculptors Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. But he’s not just a painter, but an activist, Wilkinson said.

“Everything he does is in reference to what came before and what he hopes will come. He’s really taking an active role in trying to promote a worldview that is pretty critical for the pass that we have come to now. Everything he does has a commentary on that, and I think it filters through. People pay attention to that.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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