The wait is finally over! Race Face presents the final film of the 2019 Creator Series initiative: Hwuy’xwet Pune’luxutth (Opening Penelakut).
Filmmaker: Jason Mannings
Synopsis: At its core, Hwuy’xwet Pune’luxutth (Opening Penelakut) follows a group of First Nations students at Penelakut Island Elementary School as they work with trail builder Riley McIntosh to create a new mountain bike trail in the community. The film also weaves in the stories, culture, and history of Penelakut Island and its people.
Why We Chose this Film: We chose this film because it brings a new perspective to the world of trail building. These First Nations youth take on a sense of accomplishment and responsibility as they learn new skills working in the forest with Riley. This film also draws on the history and knowledge of members of the Penelakut tribe as they share their experience of growing up in residential schools and their hope for the future of their children, grandchildren, and community.
When we chose this film, we thought it was important to tell these stories, to help share different perspectives, and to expand our view of not only the mountain bike world but also of local history. We think Jason did an impressive job weaving together the narratives of Penelakut Island's community and we hope you enjoy the film!
Jason Mannings has also set up a fundraiser through GoFundMe with proceeds going towards the trail building initiative on Penelakut Island for the 2020/2021 school year. If you have the ability, please head over there to donate!
A few thoughts from filmmaker Jason Mannings:
What made you choose this story to tell?
The short answer is that it sounded like a story worth sharing. The longer answer is that, as a filmmaker, I’ve been looking for opportunities to share some lesser known mountain bike stories that fall somewhat outside of the usual focus on pros and products. The trail building initiative on Penelakut Island was one of the stories on my list; I met Riley while I was still in high school, sometime around 2003, and it’s been impactful to see how his long history of trail building eventually led to Penelakut Island. In the past, I haven’t always had the best luck pitching alternative ideas for mountain bike films, but the Creator Series seemed like a perfect opportunity to do so. I am appreciative to have been given the green light to make this film; it’s one of those ideas I assumed probably wouldn’t actually come to fruition, but RaceFace saw the potential, and offered the needed support. Asides from all that, I feel that indigenous stories need a lot more space to be shared, and this felt like one opportunity to create some space in the outdoors sports world. Indigenous rights and issues are really intertwined with the most important issues of our time: the environment, and racism, to name just a couple. In light of recent cultural shifts, it seems like meaningful stories within the mountain bike community may begin to see an increase in support, and I hope this is the case, and I hope it doesn’t turn into a short-lived trend; it’s simply worth sharing meaningful stories.
What sort of equipment did you use for filming?
The film was shot on two cameras: an old Canon 8mm camera, graciously on loan from Jordan Manley, and a RED camera. For the 8mm, I stuck to Kodak 500T film stock, which is fairly grainy in that small format, which I wanted in order to contrast with the digital imagery. When shot in daylight w/o filtration, 500T brings out some of the cooler tones in the temperate rainforest, which I felt was suitable for the time of year (winter solstice) and for some of the undertones of the narrative. For the RED, I kept it stripped down, and used manual focus SLR style Zeiss lenses… only 3 fixed focal length primes, no zooms. Audio was done on a Sound Devices recorder, and a handful of Sennheiser microphones… a shotgun mic, a dialogue mic, and a couple lavs. Lighting was largely natural, with a couple LED lamps in the mix (when logistics actually allowed me to use some lighting). The majority of the film was shot handheld, with the occasional tripod shot; no fancy stabilizers. It needed to be a somewhat minimalist style production… there wasn’t the time, or control, or support crew to deal with any more gear than I had. Besides that, I wanted the film to feel somewhat naturalistic; it’s certainly still stylized, but I was shying away from a few of the overplayed tricks of the outdoor sports film world, which I didn’t feel would be at all appropriate for the subject matter. If anyone has a technical question beyond that, feel free to drop me a line.
What did you find toughest about this project?
The toughest parts were that the film needed to be delayed well past the original deadline, for several reasons, and then the editing process. In pre-production, I knew I didn’t want to force a narrative, which is something white/settler filmmakers and journalists have a long (and problematic) history of doing when documenting indigenous stories. Instead, I tried to listen to community input, and to be flexible enough to embrace the natural opportunities that were presented, instead of pushing for specifics. This approach made the edit a lot more challenging than if I had total control over production, since I couldn’t follow a predetermined storyboard; however, I think the film is therefore more representative of what the community actually wanted to share, and that makes the added challenge feel worthwhile. The narrative itself is relatively simple, but I wanted the film to sort of unravel in layers, and focus as much on the feelings as on the actual facts… attempting to find that balance took some thinking, and lots of outside feedback.
What would you say you learned in working on this project? Did this project give you a different perspective on mtn biking and its relationship to the land?
From this film I learned that it is possible—if complicated—to include community input in the process of creating a documentary. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but I really wanted the community—the band, the school, the elders—to have some amount of input throughout pre-production, production, and post-production. A lot of that dialogue was achieved with the help of Riley McIntosh, who has closer connections with community members on Penelakut. Looking back, there is certainly room for improvement in this process, but I learned that it is possible to let go of control a bit more than I’m comfortable with. It’s important for a community to have a voice in how their stories are portrayed in the media, and it’s not like this is a hard-hitting journalistic exposé… we wanted to share a beautiful portrait of an inspiring story, and we wanted community consent. So far as mountain biking is concerned, it helped reignite my hope that mountain biking can, in the right context, be used for positive social change. It was great seeing kids out riding, and laughing, who weren’t in the least bit concerned about their kit or Instagram; it can be weird spending time around groms who live and breath the pop culture of mountain biking, and often have industry parents. I’ve always loved riding my bike in the mountains, and I still ride all the time, but at some point the sport lost some of it’s magic for me. Making this film was a healthy reminder that mountain biking has the potential to be an elegant way in which to connect with the land.
Anything else you'd like to add?
We currently have a GoFundMe set up, to help support the 2020/2021 school year of the trail building initiative on Penelakut Island. If anyone is able to make a donation, 100% of the funds raised will go directly towards the trail building initiative. Other than that, I’d like to say thanks to the community on Penelakut Island for welcoming me into their territory, and I’d also like to thank anyone who takes the time to check out the film.
Sitting down with trail builder, Riley McIntosh:
How did you come to work with the Penelakut group?
I started the Story Trails Initiative in 2014 with the goal of building trails with First Nations youth, and Penelakut Island had been on my radar since 2015 after hearing about the Island from some Penelakut youth who I worked with on Maple Mountain, in the Cowichan Valley. In the summer of 2018 my previous project was coming to a close so I reached out to Josh James, the Economic Development Officer at Penelakut, to see if he had any interest, and it all came together very quickly. As it turned out, Josh had already drafted a Master Trails Plan for the Island and had successfully applied for a grant to build the first trail in the plan. I explained my approach to Josh, which is quite a non-typical format including experiential education for youth, job-skills training, and socio-emotional wellness promotion, and luckily for me Josh was very receptive and excited about those themes. We started construction on our first trail in September of 2018.
What’s your favourite part of building a trail?
Everything. I started building my first trails at nine years old, and it has been a big part of my life ever since. Something I realized when I was about 28 years old is that when you are building a trail you are actually blending your spirit with the spirit of the forest, and that as human beings our place to feel at peace within ourselves is out in the woods, not in buildings, the concrete world, and all that. So I think for me building a trail represents my ability to connect with Mother Nature, and to make corners, bridges, and pieces of trail I picture in my mind come into reality. Eventually I started building the Story Trails Initiative in my head because I had a theory that perhaps taking a big group of children and building a trail together could be something powerful and impactful for the children, and also their greater community.
What has surprised you the most about trail building with kids vs trail building with adults?
Over the last few years I have slowly learned that my projects can be summed up as community health projects. When I look at the trail building process from that perspective, I see that what we are really doing the most is building people first, and trails second. I very much believe that those themes of empowerment, teamwork, hope, pride, and wellness can be found when working together with a bunch of wonderful people in the forest. I also very much believe that our experiences as children really sets the stage for our behavior, reactions, and coping mechanisms when we are adults. Working on the trails with the children is so incredibly beautiful because the children are truly happy to be there and they are experiencing life moment by moment. The best part is the children see that their efforts have helped make a wonderful trail for their entire community to enjoy, and that has immense power as to how it affects the children’s ability to see the connection between hard work and being rewarded for their work. Working with children on trails is by far the best thing I have ever done in my life, I truly believe the children and I are making a positive difference in their communities and there is no greater reward for hard work than that. Over the last seven months, we have employed a crew of eight adult members of Penelakut Tribe to work with on the trails, and this has been one of the most enriching and incredible experiences of my life. We have formed a strong team atmosphere and it has taken our trail construction to a whole new level having such a strong and dedicated work force!
What has been your biggest takeaway from working in the Penelakut community?
My biggest takeaway from working on Penelakut Island has been that anyone, no matter how big or small or confident or anxious, happy or sad, can make positive beautiful things happen for themselves. Mother nature wants us to be happy and successful, and mother nature wants us to be intimately and positively connected to her and each other.
Has the community buy-in to building trails surprised you at all? Did you think it would go this well or be as well received?
The community reaction to trail development on Penelakut has really been everything I’ve ever dreamed of since I begin this work in 2014. The island has several hundred residents and over the last two years I have been lucky enough to become friends with many of them. It’s a big honor to be welcomed into the community. My favorite thing is seeing posts on Facebook from community members with photos of their families out enjoying the trails, it’s hard to describe how satisfying that feels!
Have you been receiving interest from similar communities to Penelakut with interests in finding ways to engage younger generations with their ancestral relationship to the land?
I have definitely received interest from various communities, and I’m happy about that. To be honest, my true interest is developing community health through fostering a connection to land. From that perspective, the trails are almost just a vehicle for transferring that feeling or theme. Over the last two years I have developed such a spiritual connection to the forests and people of Penelakut Island that I feel as though we are just getting started. It has never been my intention to bounce from community to community, because my dream is to be working with children over a period of several years at least, so that the progression of the trail development and all that comes with it can roll along in conjunction with each child’s personal development. I was very lucky to discover that I could build a trail with my own two hands at a young age and it helped me to believe in myself throughout my entire life, whether I was at University, working in the Artic, whatever I was doing. I don’t believe that building trails is the only answer for children and communities, but I do believe that connecting to Mother Nature is the answer to being a happy and healthy person. We could switch to building lacrosse courts in the forest, or building canoes, or paintball zones deep in the woods, it doesn’t really matter, but for me it’s all about trails because that is where my heart, skills, and talent lies.
About the Creator Series: The Race Face Creator Series initiative was an open call for filmmakers, professional or amateur, to take part in this challenge over the next few months. We financed filmmakers to show off their mountain biking community beyond the shreddits – what makes it tick, who are the ones keeping it running, what story they believed needed to be told.