Mini-documentaries showcase Island people, places

ON SCREEN

What: 150 Stories that Shape British Columbia
Where: The Knowledge Network, knowledge.ca/program/150-stories-shape-british-columbia
When: Thursday, Jan. 7

Tara-Lee Novak didn’t have a problem coming up with content when asked to participate in Knowledge Network’s ongoing 150 Stories that Shape British Columbia initiative.

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The Victoria writer, producer and director put forth a small library’s worth of Vancouver Island-related ideas last year — 100, all told. Novak and the network eventually settled on 10 documentary shorts, which premiere today for free on all Knowledge Network platforms as Coastal Dwellers.

“I had no shortage of stories,” Novak said. “What we landed on for Vancouver Island runs the gamut.”

Indeed it does. The mini documentaries explore topics ranging from the origins of the Cowichan sweater to the story of the community of Sointula, the formation of the West Coast Trail and profiles of Port Renfrew surfer Leah Oke, architect Francis Rattenbury and wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

Coastal Dwellers and 150 Stories is part of a larger Knowledge Network venture, the B.C. Documentary History Project, launched to commemorate the 150th anniversary of British Columbia entering Confederation.

Past episodes are currently streaming for free on knowledge.ca, including profiles of Vancouver Islanders such as musician Nelly Furtado, writer Susan Musgrave, lumber baron Mayo Singh, labour leader Albert (Ginger) Goodwin and artist Roy Henry Vickers.

Novak said she wasn’t surprised when producers greenlit her pitches, given the proliferation of interesting people and places in the area that don’t always receive enough attention.

“I think it speaks to the intrigue of Island stories,” Novak said. “There’s something inherently interesting about coastal life and islands that not everyone gets to go to. A lot of mainlanders may or may not know about Sointula, Lennard Island and Sombrio Beach.”

The collection of 10 short films about Vancouver Island kicks off a string of new entries in 150 Stories that will arrive on a monthly basis until August. The remaining 80 short films making their way to the network’s website, Apple and Android apps, and its traditional broadcast format include yet more content with Vancouver Island roots.

Documentaries on the late Paul Horn and Central Saanich punk trio The Dishrags both air Feb. 4, with subsequent entries showcasing Emily Carr (March 4) and synagogue Congregation Emanu-El (June 3).

With running times of between two and three minutes, the bite-sized documentaries are expected to grab a wide audience, given that the time commitment is low — even those who know little about a particular topic will give a professionally shot video two minutes of their time.

But the abbreviated running time was also something of a curse.

“With just two two three minutes, it’s hard to share a ton of history,” Novak said. “But I feel when you watch these films, you can’t help but think that Islanders are really resourceful. In a couple of cases — like Leah Oke or the story of the Cowichan sweater — they are stories about perseverance and persistence.”

Novak, who moved to Victoria from Vancouver in 2015, used an all-Vancouver Island crew for Coastal Dwellers. With 10 stories to tell from different parts of Vancouver Island, Novak and her crew of five had to get by on a shoestring budget.

They were forced to improvise for the documentary on Oke, which was shot in the Sombrio Beach area. Novak said the crew all slept in their cars, due to the lack of hotels in the area.

The subjects of each documentary also did their part to help the production.

“There wasn’t a lot of people working on this, so it was an economy of kindness,” Novak said. “People gave more than they needed to, but they were proud of these stories and where they are from.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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