Work In Progress: Kirsten Carthew

Edge: What is it about Yellowknife that pulls you back?

Carthew: I think of Yellowknife as my home. I’m still a resident and have been for almost 20 years. I travel a lot, but Yellowknife is my grounding spot, it’s where I consider myself to come from. It’s where I was a teenager.

One thing I appreciate about Yellowknife is that there are a lot of opportunities if you are entrepreneurial. If you take the initiative, there are opportunities to grow in any discipline. I’ve participated in a lot of different things in Yellowknife, through my own initiative or others with ease that would be more challenging elsewhere.

This is a place where people come to a complete stop at stop signs, or not. I think there is a normalcy here that isn’t easily found elsewhere. People are really friendly and very accepting of other people’s imperfections and eccentricities, and it’s very funny.

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E: What makes it funny, to you?

C: People have a greater sense of self here; they are their own person and do a lot of different, interesting things. There is humour, challenges, sadness, but among my friends the default here is to turn events into funny opportunities… there is a certain northern humour here… it’s usually a little dirty.

E: What’s your first memory of Yellowknife?

C: My mother had lived here and my family was living in Toronto. She brought some video that she had taken of this ‘fantastic town.’ What she showed us was Raven Mad Days. It looked bizarre. People were putting shaving cream on everyone, dancing around. It seemed odd, and dirty, and messy.

My big experience was driving here from Toronto with our pets. We came around the airport loop and up the hill and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there are buildings here.’ I never imagined Yellowknife to have buildings. I thought that was a real plus. I had never lived in a small town and I imagined from the video that all the buildings were small. Seeing tall buildings made me think there was an urban energy here that was familiar. And they were different colours.

Growing up, there were different bars and clubs. There was nothing exclusive about them. Everyone mixed, and I like that about Yellowknife. It’s social and allows people to be open to different kinds of relationships.

E: Let’s talk about the documentary project.

C: The YK Doc Project is a couple of different things and there is a bit of an academic spin to it: looking at the importance of technology and how that can be applied to documentary film. We have an opportunity to use new media at the research and development stage.

Previously it (making a documentary) was always an issue of capacity: One filmmaker, or a group, limited by time and resources, responsible for collecting data and curating it. Technology gives us the opportunity to create documentaries using the web platform to gather and present data. Where there was one documentarian, now you can have an infinite number, whether they live in Yellowknife or not.

A lot of popular television shows have a vast fan base. I was interested in how fan culture organizes around a media franchise. In this case, we can have fans focused on a community, using the same principles applied to civic engagement projects.

In the YK Doc Project, it’s a simple platform where an internet user can take video, upload it to the website as their contribution to telling the story of Yellowknife.

We’re pitching this as the fan community telling the story of Yellowknife through their own words and images. Contributors can also go on the website and see what others have posted, and comment and rate them. All that material will exist as a living, archival document of Yellowknife, as told by the Yellowknife fan community.

The idea is that the fan community will then curate a final offline document based on some of the footage that is there. Fans create and filter the material to produce a documentary.

E: Wouldn’t the end result be somewhat disjointed?

C: We need to see what happens with the content. Some will be video, some will be text. So the material becomes the starting point for a longer form documentary. Whether you’re Stephen Spielberg or my mother, you can film without worrying whether you’ve produced something amazing. You can post under an alias; we don’t care, we just want the content.

We’re hoping to work with schools and community groups to engage people in the idea that they can participate in telling the story of Yellowknife from their angle. We’re giving control of content to the fan community of Yellowknife. People have four minutes to present their stories.

It could be a model that other communities could take on. We are not only creators of our own media, we are collaborators, and we circulate our media and share it. We didn’t used to have those distribution channels.

E: If everybody is talking, who is listening?

C: The aspect of sharing has become more important. I used to make a lot of things in isolation and think that was enough. Working in entertainment is not a model for hiding your work. Sharing is fulfilling. It doesn’t need to be shared to the whole world, or the entire community. But you need other people to hear you.

E: It sounds unwieldy, just from the sheer volume of material.

C: We’ll see. It could be, depending on the level of participation. We’ll probably run the project for a year. It is an experiment, so parts of it might be successful, parts of it might be unwieldy. But it’s new to documentary film making. It’s not necessarily the perfect model, but in terms of capturing the stories of a number of people, this is new.

We’ll be doing workshops with groups and organizations that might not know how to use cameras or have access to the web. The real opportunity is to encourage consumers to become producers of their own media and contribute to a civic engagement project.

E: What is the financing for the project?

C: We got a grant with WAMP (Western Arctic Moving Pictures Society) from the Canada Council for $20,000. The entire project will probably cost more because we want to create an online documentary, but we’re approaching it in stages.

The money we have will cover the cost of the website, some camera equipment, and workshops. This is open to anyone and everyone.

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