Clark Ferguson’s short film SHADOW OF A GIANT was the winner of Best Picture at the May 2016 Documentary Short Film Festival.
Interview with Clark Ferguson:
Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
I was accepted into the Yellowknife International Film Festival for a short fiction film that I had shown there in 2012. When I google image searched ‘Yellowknife’, a drawing of the proposed ‘frozen block method’ was the first image viewable. I read up on the history of Giant Mine and the environmental situation occurring there. I felt a project specific to Giant would be too large, too difficult, and too sensitive – partly due to an infamous labour dispute with multiple murders and partly due to the involvement of the federal government in the remediation of the mine. So I pitched a project that would allow for travel throughout the territory and create smaller works in collaboration with the communities that currently exist around other abandoned mine sites. This project, also enormous with its challenges, seemed easier than working on a project about Giant. The project was proposed as a Canada Council residency project with Producers Lesley Johnson and Western Arctic Media Production (WAMP). And the Project was greenlit and I made my way North. However, coinciding with my arrival, was an open community consultation about Giant Mine and the proposed ‘Frozen Block Method’ of dealing with the stabilization of the mine site. It was at that point that I was hooked and felt I had to do the proposed project on just Giant Mine. After speaking with collaborators and co-producers, we went forth in the creation of a web-doc that told the story of Giant Mine through the individuals that live around the mine site itself. The short film came afterwards. And a feature was nearly created with Loaded Pictures out of Montreal – but we unfortunately came up short on that.
MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
I would say from proposal to the launch of the web-doc was about two and a half years. However, throughout that time, we were attempting to gauge interest in a feature and were attempting to fund that project while working to finish the web doc with the limited funds remaining. There were two periods of shooting: One three month period of research and creation at the end of 2012 and one ten day shooting period in 2013. The editing took place in my Montreal office. Paige Saunders, web programmer/designer, worked throughout that period and implemented our graphic design teams animations and designs of his own. Co-producer Lesley Johnson was working out of Toronto at that point was able to come to Montreal periodically to help develop the project and pursue funding. And throughout that period, we were also working with Loaded in attempting to secure funding to bring the project forward as a feature doc for television. So there were a lot of moving parts in a lot of different places. I imagine the turn around would have been much faster if there was a broadcaster involved or we had just focused on one platform and if we were all in the same place.
MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?
I don’t know if two words would do the trick but perhaps a description of a feeling would be more appropriate: That feeling when the air gets pushed out of your chest when you have a big emotional weight placed on yourself. I guess that would be intense frustration and disappointment. But the film itself is a bit more hopeful than a couple negative words or a horrible feeling.
MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The logistics of having a team spread throughout the Country and creating the work for a number of platforms was difficult. The team was also very small. Lesley Johnson and I were both doing research for the project and were both searching for funds for the project. She was my closest collaborator on the project. Paige Saunders and our team of animators persevered to create amazing work with not a lot of funds as well. I was shooting, directing, editing, managing the animators and working with Paige Saunders on the Web Design. I think I was wearing one or two too many hats. It was always meant to be a small project but the scope of the project seemed to naturally bloom as the scope of the issue was just too important to gloss over.
But that wasn’t the main obstacle. The main obstacle was that you never were really able to see the Arsenic Trioxide underground. In fact, Yellowknife and the surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful. Even the scarred mined out areas are aesthetically interesting. The danger is one that is not seen. It’s the potential that increasingly seems inevitable. But creating visual storytelling around something that is buried underground is difficult.
A close second main obstacle was that a labour strike and subsequent murders that occurred nearly 20 years earlier at the site made the community within Yellowknife unwilling to participate in the documentary. The awful legacy of that incident overshadowed the environmental legacy of the site.
MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I wasn’t able to attend the screening but to see an audience watch a work and give feedback (that was good!) was really touching. It actually felt really great to watch the reactions of those who expressed themselves. I also though Lesley Johnson did a great job responding to questions about what it’s like to live near the site and talk about the process of making the project. But ultimately, I was very touched to hear the first speaker react to projection. And the many that followed. It felt good in my heart.
MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
The treatment was based on a previous project. But basically, the idea was to have individuals most affected by an environmental tell the story of the mine site from their perspective. The participants in the film were also able to create an idea for an animation that would exemplify what the mine, present of past, means or meant to them. There is empowerment in expressing those ideas. There is power in speaking for your community and there is dialogue in a diversity of speakers. That in essence was the concept of how the doc would be made.
MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?
I’ve always loved Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo. I find it uniquely creative in it’s story telling. I don’t tend to watch a doc multiple times but did watch Manda Bala by Jason Kohn several times and will probably watch it again in July. A great doc that will blow your mind.
MT: What is next for you? A new film?
I’m shooting for other people a lot right now. It’s been good to work with other directors and help them create their vision. I love visual storytelling and the problem solving that goes on during a shoot. It’s thrilling for me. I am most excited to do that for the moment. Next large doc project I will be doing, I will not be editing.
I’m working on three or four projects: One doc project, a personal essay based autobiographical work and writing some fiction.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.