Documentary crew working on ‘makers of Gabriola' film

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, January 17 2017

On Sunday, January 8, 2016, Professor and Canada Research Chair (Public Ethnography), Phillip Vannini, from the School of Communications with Royal Roads University, joined the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust (GaLTT) to participate in the making of a trail-building video to be included in his A Time for Making documentary. He joined the work party at Yogi Trail to shoot some footage.

“On Sunday, that was the second time I went on a short trail exploration with them, the occasion was one of their work parties. They do this once a month and they go and do work on a trail. They were working on improving drainage, in part digging a ditch along the trail, so water can be deviated from the trail. They were working on about a 150-metre stretch on the trail that goes downhill towards Taylor Bay.”

In his role as producer, director and editor, Vannini is working on exploring the culture of hand-making through the stories of Canadian West Coast crafters who have turned their passion for artisanship into a lifestyle.

“This is a documentary film that profiles about eight makers,” says Vannini, “all living here on Gabriola, and the word ‘makers’ is intended to be very broad in the sense. So far GaLTT is number three. I want the project to take place over a year.”

The other Gabriolans Vannini has profiled since he started filming in October are D’dance Glass, and Wendy Stok and Nina Turczyn who are silversmiths at Turczyn’s shop Paprika Jewellery. Vannini is still looking for more possible contacts.

Paprika Design’s Nina Turczyn’s hands at work in her studio shop. Screenshot courtesy Phillip Vannini

“If someone reads this article, I could potentially be open to working with them. My interest is in diversity, and focusing on number of different media, styles, ages, end products and genders, and GaLTT was a unique one because they don’t do it for profit. I wanted at least one maker who does that without any kind of economic transaction.”

Vannini says he has always been interested in the notion of “made in.” 

“So when you hear that expression you think of the number of ways something is made, conditions of labour, organization, work, style, manufacturing process, money and the broader place. [You see] “made in France” you think of France as a whole, a culture that inspires makers, their styles and ways of life, so we live in the Gulf Islands full of things that are made.”

Vannini says these stories are not told very much. “We take it for granted because these are our friends. It’s a unique story. We live in world of large manufacturing and global chains of distribution. Very few of us make things. We buy these things because we like them and we appreciate them, we don’t buy, in the case of a trail, but we use it, there’s a bigger economy and social organization that I want to talk about through the stories of these eight makers, and through a variety of events from markets to fairs, where the making and buying is part of our global culture.”

One of the ideas behind the film is to look at a year in the life of Gabriola Island. Initially, Vannini says he was going to look at a number of Gulf Islands, but as a proud Gabriolan, (he has been a resident since 2010) he says he chose to make the film here.

“I’m much closer to the subject. I can observe and get in touch readily across the seasons. It was part of capturing the passage of time as a way of showing how making here is very much a part of everyday life. There are events that take place in specific times of the year, the Christmas craft fair at the school, the farmers’ market, the Studio Tour, all as part of the calendar of the island, portray these events unfolding right as the makers do their work.”

Filming will go on for much of 2017 and then it will be released in 2018. The film is executive produced and will be distributed by Fighting Chance Films, an Australian-based company that also distributed Vannini’s film Life off the Grid that came out in 2014. The film is intended for TV and global video on demand distributions through platforms such as iTunes and Google Play.

Another documentary of Vannini’s, Low and Slow, is currently showing on the Knowledge Network and is about British Columbia float plane pilots.

Vannini says a lot of what he needs to do as part of his job description is to create work that goes beyond very small audiences of academic research. “When I write a paper, 30 to 50 people might read it, and this is a serious limitation. My responsibility is to find ways to share knowledge more broadly and film is instrumental in that it has much broader reach.”

Three Gabriolans are working with Vannini: Tony Gradanti is writing music; Jules Molloy from Close to the Sun Productions will be assisting Vannini with some aspects of production and post-production; and April Vannini is co-writing the documentary.

“In many ways this is a Gabriola production,” he says.

Vannini hopes people who see his film might better appreciate and understand the importance of the local economy and of people who make unique things.

“Often the profit motive is secondary to the love and passion they have for what they do. It’s important to us as consumers to see there are lives behind the products we use and buy, and it’s important for British Columbians to tell stories about ourselves and we’re not very good at doing that. We turn on Netflix or television and are inspired by American stories. It’s important that we tell stories to ourselves and the rest of the world.”

When asked about his occupation, Vannini says it’s about meeting interesting people, going to interesting places and making interesting things. And when he observed the trail builders of GaLTT he says he was admiring their dedication.

“I am thankful we have volunteers who take time and strive to do a job that is thankless and forgotten. I for one am appreciative of everything they do. The one thing that’s really important to mention is [that] a place deeply shapes and inspires a maker, the making process and whatever is made. The inspiration comes from a sense of place: its colours, its rhythms, its textures, its weather and climate and the relationships that it fosters. By making, buying or using something handmade we establish a deeply personal relationship and we form a sense of community. That relationship and sense of community are pretty much absent when we buy or use anonymously-made, mass-manufactured things.”

Vannini is also the author of 10 books, all available through Pages Marina and Bookstore on Gabriola (and Amazon), and as a Canada Research Chair he is one of approximately 1,800 professors selected to make Canada one of the top countries in research and development.