A Golden Voice – Behind the Scenes

Posted by on Sep 17, 2021 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Capturing a Monumental Artist in a Short Film

The concept behind this project was to capture what is iconic about an artist; to distill the essence of their unique voice and make it into a puzzle for the viewer to figure out. Bill Reid was one of Canada’s most distinguished artists, and his life’s work has filled many books, which was where we started. The poetic writing of Martine Reid in particular was a big influence on the film. The quotes on this page are some of the the writings that inspired us.


“One basic quality unites all the works of mankind that speak to us in human, recognizable voices across the barriers of time, culture and space: the simple quality of being well made.”

– Bill Reid

Collaboration

My co-director Patrick Shannon, also known as Nang Ḵ‘uulas, is a Haida filmmaker, social entrepreneur and university instructor. Patrick is a relative of Reid’s, and in addition to working with the Bill Reid Estate, we requested permission from the family in Haida Gwaii before embarking on this project. Without Patrick’s leadership on Haida culture and language, his boundless enthusiasm for travel and production, and his patience over a 15 month process, this film would not exist.

Cinematography on the film was shared by Patrick and another key collaborator, Chad Galloway, who was also our gaffer/lighting technician. Chad’s relentless drive for beauty, Swiss-army-knife array of talents and generous engagement were a major factor in this film.

Hats off as well to my steadfast co-producer, the inimitable John Bolton. We are proud to be an Opus 59 Films production!

To brainstorm the structure of the film, Patrick and I worked with key words, biographical details, and photographs of Reid’s art. I like to work on a wall in the story edit stage, especially when collaborating.

Origin Stories

“While attending his grandfather’s funeral in Skidegate in 1954, Reid held and closely examined a pair of bracelets made by Charles Edenshaw that were “really deeply carved” and he would later say that after that transformative encounter, the world was not really the same.”
– Martine Reid, Bill Reid Collected

Reid grew up in the mainstream colonial culture because his mother was taken out of her Haida community and put through the residential school system. As such, Reid didn’t have much opportunity to build a connection to his Haida ancestry until he was an adult. The legendary Haida master artist Charles Edenshaw/Daxhiigang was his great, great uncle, and I was drawn to this tale of a creative spark that stirred Reid’s soul and called him to begin making Haida art.

“Bill was to see and handle Edenshaw’s tools, inherited by his own grandfather and carried on his back the eighty miles from Masset to Skidegate. He remembers those tools, all engraving tools, some with Edenshaw’s own ingeniously made handles of bone or ivory, and all having the personal quality that a skilled user somehow imparts to his instruments.”
– Doris Shadbolt, Bill Reid

These tools have a presence, an almost mythic aura and history, and it was an honour for us to be in a room with them and to film them.

Photographing Metal


“Of the wide range of material with which he worked – white and yellow gold, platinum, silver, copper, wood, fossil ivory, argillite, leather and hide, paper, cloth, plaster, clay, bronze – Reid loved 22-karat gold the most.”

– Martine Reid, Bill Reid Collected

It was an exciting prospect to put a macro lens on some of Reid’s gold masterworks, which are breathtaking in their detail and usually live in alarmed glass cases at the MOA and Bill Reid Gallery. But these shimmering works act like mirrors, reflecting the entire room, crew, lighting rigs and all.

Metal jewelry is usually filmed in small light boxes, however we wanted the works to be in a space that resembled a black sand beach with a horizon line, so we’d need a larger stage. We also had to set up and shoot in limited time windows, and there was no chance of taking the objects off site. Chad and I did some preliminary lighting tests. When you try to light a metal bracelet in a dark room, the result is very dark.

We came up with a system using stands and fabric to act as a reflected light source in front of the objects, obscuring the room and equipment.

This totally limited our camera movement and was a bit fussy to work with but solved the problem.

Locations

“Reid started by studying Haida objects depicted in early ethnographic publications & museums. During 17 years of intense contemplation, Reid respectfully submitted to the conventions of Haida art, “shamelessly copying” to use his own words, the ancient stylized designs…. Taught by those silent masters, he began to unlock “the secrets of the old designs” and to understand the artistic logic behind them.”
– Martine Reid, Bill Reid Collected

This film was filmed largely in Vancouver, on the traditional, unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, and also on Haida Gwaii.

Museum of Anthropology at UBC

Reid had a long and storied relationship with MOA: it was a place he went to study Haida culture early on, and he then went on to contribute some of the museum’s major permanent features, such as the village and beloved Raven and the First Men sculpture.

We were grateful to work with MOA archival staff, especially Cait Pilon, who helped us figure out how to balance our shooting requests with the museum’s practices- for example all props and materials used in this shoot were frozen for two weeks in the MOA’s deep freeze before making contact with any artifacts. When the golden treasures were brought in, one by one for their “close-ups”, it felt like meeting famous characters you have read about in books.

We were very lucky have Laurel K. Brown join the team as camera and lighting assistant – she was awesome and saved the day at MOA and the Bill Reid Gallery.

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

We collaborated throughout this process with the Bill Reid Gallery and in particular with Beth Carter. I think every film has some kind of guardian angel and this time it was Beth, helping through the most crucial moments. She also stayed up late into the night shooting Reid’s treasures with us.

The film premiered at the Bill Reid Gallery as part of the exhibition to commemorate Reid’s 100th birthday.

Shawn Edenshaw Studio

To recreate Reid’s goldsmithing workbench, we had a hand from another talented Edenshaw descendent.

Haida jewellery maker and instructor, Shawn Edenshaw, was very kind to allow us into his studio, and to reveal the alchemy of his craft to us. You can find Shawn’s work at the Lattimer Gallery.

Vancouver Art Gallery

I saw Reid’s wonderful sculpture Phyllidula—The Shape of Frogs to Come as a child and it made an impression on me, so I was keen to include it in the film. I was cautioned it was unlikely, as it was in storage. However, through some very fortuitous curating at the VAG we were able to come face to face with this slippery character.

Vancouver Aquarium

Timelapse and visual effects artist Bun Lee helped us out with the shot of the bronze orca sculpture at the Vancouver Aquarium, called Chief of the Undersea World. Stanley Park was closed to cars for pandemic lock-down at the time, so we hiked in with our gear.

Featured Voices

Reid was known for his deep voice as a radio announcer, and we wanted the voices in the film to reflect a Haida perspective and also to convey the different ways his life and work touched people. I can’t ever express enough gratitude to Nika Collison, Reid’s granddaughter, Gwaai Edenshaw, Reid’s last apprentice, and Harvey Williams, Haida Elder, for lending their voices to the film, and their contributions to its message.

Harvey is one of the few elders left on Haida Gwaii who speak Haida, and he and Patrick worked on the Haida language translations together.

Music and Finishing

We worked with the super talented composer Mark Lazeski on the original music and sound design. For some elements, I went into his nifty creative cave and recorded what’s known in animation as “foley” – custom made sound effects, like the sound of drawing on art paper.

Big thanks to sound mix engineer Chris McLaren and colourist Chris Boettcher for making the finished film sing.

Exhibition

The finished short is now out in the world, and has been enjoyed at many Canadian and International film festivals. You may catch it at the Bill Reid Gallery, and you can watch it on air and online on Knowledge Network (free sign-in required).

Thanks to everyone who helped make this film possible – way more than are mentioned here – we are so grateful and honoured to have been able to make it. See the credits and festival list here.

“Bill made his jewellery bench an extraordinary site of cultural alchemy by applying his newly learned technology of classical European goldsmithing to Haida iconography. The resulting works possessed the authority of crown jewels but embodied a duality of cultural practices that complimented the high standards of both.“
George Rammel, Bill Reid and Beyond