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Lions Gate nurses spotlighted in Squamish VIMFF film

'Frontlines' shows health-care workers' relationships to climbing amid the pandemic

Nurses have often been called heroes during the pandemic, but a new climbing film featuring Squamish nurses seeks to unpack this often one-dimensional label.

Frontlines, a film directed by both Casey Dubois and Zac Hoffman, follows three nurses living in Squamish as they balance their work and personal lives in 2021.

Dubois and Hoffman are fresh off making another climbing film in Squamish, called Crux:The Climb Towards Mental Health, which followed one man's relationship with climbing and how it's helped him through his mental health challenges.

Frontlines shows three nurses working through the pandemic at Lions Gate Hospital while also finding time to pursue their passion for climbing.

The two directors told The Squamish Chief that with these two films, they've been seeking to create adventure films that are personal, intimate and relatable. They say they got the idea from a mutual friend.

It's a common theme for the marquee climbing films in outdoor film festivals to feature sports celebrities accomplishing seemingly impossible feats.

However, Frontlines is a picture that focuses more on the stories that can be found in the ordinary.

Hoffman said it's now become quite common for spectacular athletic accomplishments to be just a scroll on Instagram away, but there's often something missing from those posts.

"What you don't get through a social media post is the humanization and the story behind, and we've kind of made it a goal to tell stories that are relatable to people," said Hoffman, who's based in North Vancouver.

He added another goal of the film is to inspire people to engage with the outdoors.

"Other people who watch this film that might have families or busy lives and they don't have time to pursue things they might want to — they can see bouldering and be like: you can bring your kids there; bring your partner there; throw a couple pads on the ground…people can watch that and be inspired, and it's not such an ordeal to go and get started with that."

The theme of relatability was one that Dubois, who lives in Squamish, had similar sentiments about.

Many people in the audience may not be able to relate to breaking a speed record on El Capitan, but they probably can understand what it's like to clock out of work and try to find an outlet to burn off stress, he said.

"You have a sense of relatability as your typical audience," said Dubois. "We're not expected to try and race up [El Capitan's] Nose in two hours. We're going to be trying to get off work so we can go and climb. We're not in it for any accolades or in it to try and be the next best — it's more just what those feelings give."

He said he wanted the film's main draw to be its subjects, rather than a groundbreaking athlete feat.

"We all watched other documentaries that aren't related to sports and we get just as involved in them," said Dubois. "Why not bring something that allows the audience to just put themselves in their shoes a little bit more?"

One thing the nurses have to deal with is having an extremely demanding job while also participating in an extremely demanding sport, which, for some, can seem like a source of stress in itself.

In the film, observations are made about how climbing can force people to focus on the present moment. As a result, the sport's inherent dangers can relieve stress by taking peoples' minds off their day-to-day problems.

"Part of it is because I love it, but part of it is because I force myself to go, because I know I'll feel better after," said Mandoline Clark, one of the film's subjects. "But it has not been easy, and it has been for sure my hardest year of climbing I've ever had."

Clark, who's been climbing for about 20 years, said she's faced injuries and other setbacks that have taken a toll on her.

She said the healthcare system was already understaffed to begin with, and the pandemic has exposed the flaws already within the system.

Clark said that there is a problem with calling nurses and other health-care workers heroes.

"I think there's this misconception in many professions, but in nursing in particular, that we can just keep piling on the work and that a hero can just do it," she said.

"A hero can take more patients, work with less nurses, work for whatever amount of money you make, and, for sure, there is a part of nursing that is altruistic. You have to like what you do, especially in emergency...but I think there's a piece there that people can miss very easily. It is also a job. It is also how I feed my family and pay my mortgage, and it's very difficult. If there's this misconception out there — that we're heroes — then we don't need to be adequately compensated for our efforts, and right now our efforts are more than normal. So I just think it's dangerous to brand us as heroes. It gives people the opportunity to devalue what we do."

Ashley Veevers, another of the film's subjects, said it was difficult to rationalize putting so much effort into climbing when there were so many other pressing issues.

Both nurses agreed it's been a very long two years.

In a follow-up email from Waco, Texas, where she's currently on a climbing trip, Veevers said she has complex feelings about pursuing this interest.

"I have a complicated sense of guilt about not being in the hospital at the moment with my friends who are working really hard, being overworked and burning out. They are friends who are amazing nurses who will always step up and do their best even though the system is breaking and relying on people like them, who will sacrifice their well-being for their team and their community," she wrote.

"When nurses are fatigued, burn[ed] out and working short-staffed the chance for adverse events and poor outcomes for patients rises drastically. My friends are facing the stress of this likelihood every day and it isn't fair that this burden is falling on them."

Veevers said she hopes the pandemic will be a turning point for nursing that will spur more funding and resources to add and retain staff.

"We don't want to be called heroes — we want this," wrote Veevers.

Frontlines will be showing in-person at Vancouver's Rio Theatre on March 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at vimff.org.

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