Gary Vaillancourt reimagines the site as a 21st century Model Village, where instead of Giant Mine being known as one of the most contaminated sites in Canada, the political will instead focuses on creating an eco-friendly, self-sustaining community that is a model for the rest of the world. Image as drawn by Sasha Stanojovic. Gary Vaillancourt image.
by Clark Ferguson
What’s it like living in the Shadow of a Giant? I’ve been asking people around Yellowknife that question for my documentary of the same name, inspired by the environmental legacy of Giant Mine. Shadow of a Giant started as a Canada Council for the Arts residency project in September 2012, when I came from Saskatoon to Yellowknife to collaborate with Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP). At that time, public hearings were underway into the mine site’s remediation, including the decision to permanently freeze 237,000 tonnes of deadly arsenic trioxide dust now sitting in vaults underground.
I sat through the meetings, thinking, ‘Wow, what an incredible story.’ And as each stakeholder group from the region stood up and reflected on the present, past, and potential dangers from the contamination, I thought again, ‘Wow, what an amazing story.’ So at that point, upon talking with my colleagues at WAMP, the angle of the residency became clear: Let’s focus on Giant Mine. Let’s ask the people who have been affected by Giant (in whatever way) to discuss its impact on them or their community, then re-imagine the site into something that reflects their hopes for making it a positive place for the future. As each participant talks about their idea, an animator, Sasha Stanojevic, creates images of it behind them so the idea is empowered, at the very least, by a virtual presence.
The ideas for reimaginings range from celebrating the culture of the mines to letting nature take back the site completely, with not a trace of the mine remaining. The ideas are diverse as they represent the different relationships people have had, and still have, with the mine.
Along the way, Lesley Johnson and I started working closer together on the project, gathering information on the history of Giant Mine and its environmental legacy. It seemed pertinent to provide context and background while still managing to tell the story through the characters. And so who, in fact, participated? Well, you’ll have to wait to find out all of them, but we are providing a sneak peek here at some of their ideas, varying from the pragmatic to the impossible.
Shadow of a Giant will be a 30-minute web documentary, as well as a short doc project released this fall. It will be screened at the Yellowknife International Film Festival October 1-6.
Kevin O’Reilly reimagines a long-term interpretive and research centre so future generations will always know what happened at the Giant site, and scientists can focus on finding a permanent solution for cleaning up the arsenic trioxide now being frozen underground.
Fred Sangris reimagines Yellowknife Bay without arsenic trioxide contamination stored underground near its shores. The image begs the question of whether the cleanup would have a different emphasis, if it were taking place in someone else’s backyard.
Clark Ferguson is creative producer for Family Farm Films in Saskatoon and Montreal, and is director/shooter/editor and co-writer of Shadow of a Giant. Also working on the project are: Lesley Johnson, producer/co-writer and audio recordist; Sasha Stanojevic, animator and designer; Paige Saunders, web guru; Jeremy Emerson, WAMP coordinator.