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Documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild was born in New York City in 1952 to a Canadian mother who was an opera singer and a British father who was a journalist. Her mother was determined that her daughter not stray far from her Canadian roots and so named her Nettie Barry Canada Wild. The name would later become that of her film production company, Canada Wild Productions. About a month after her birth, the family moved to Vancouver where she grew up and obtained her education. At the University of British Columbia, she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a major in creative writing and a minor in film and theatre.
Her early career involved the theatre and telling stories, a task she was well prepared for, both by her journalist father and her formal schooling. Wild was a founding member of two Vancouver theatre companies where she worked as an actress, producer and writer. She was at Touchstone Theatre in 1975-1976 and at Headlines Theatre from 1980 to 1985. At the latter, she was part of the Buy, Buy Vancouver production which dealt with the housing crisis in the city. The material was regularly re-written to reflect ongoing changes in the situation and the play attracted much input from community organizations and members of the public who do not usually go to plays. It also led to Wild directing the video, Right to Fight (1982), about the struggle for affordable housing in a Vancouver neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, Nettie Wild was honing her skills in other media besides theatre. She did sound recording and narration for various films, both for income and as an entry into the world of film production. Sound recording, in particular, would later prove useful for her radio and film production work. Since 1985, she had produced freelance radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio, often focusing on political movements, for programs such as As It Happens, Ideas and Sunday Morning. Wild feels that radio remains the medium most willing to take chances, both in the topics it covers and the people who make the productions.
Wild's first film, A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution (1988), was the result of an eight-month visit to that country. In 1985 she went to the Philippines to put on drama workshops and file stories for CBC Radio. The Filipino community in Canada had seen Wild's theatre work and thought the people in their home country could benefit from it. Several grants gave her the opportunity to visit the Philippines to study theatre in that country and the plan was to make a film on Filipino theatre. However, during her visit, she went with a translator into the mountains of Mindinao, to work with an area theatre group. While there, she met members of the New People's Army (NPA) and their supporters and later decided that they and other players would make a worthwhile topic for a documentary film on the ongoing struggle for political power.
Government troops attacked the players and audience members, setting them on the run for four days. Wild, as the only outsider, gained considerable trust from the (NPA), who had seen her, literally under fire.
Following her return to Canada, Wild encountered the usual difficulties of obtaining funding and securing a crew to make her film. (Now, with four films under her belt, Wild says that today, financing for films is no longer possible without a pre-sale to a broadcaster.) Added to these usual difficulties was the change in government of the Philippines. The new filmmaker knew that international coverage of the Philippines was then focused on the apparent overthrow of the Marcos government by that of Aquino, so that the story she was about to tell was the inside story of the real revolutionary movement.
While a university student and later, Nettie Wild participated in many protests so is familiar with the political process and realistic about its part in filmmaking. She feels that the role of the independent artist in a political movement is a lonely one and the filmmaker must ultimately be loyal to the drama, not to the politics. Some of the Communist party members in A Rustling of Leaves wanted to control her film and so have a piece of propaganda. There always comes a time in making her films when Wild feels very lonely, attempting to depict the events about her as opposed to the "reality" urged by some of her subjects.
A Rustling of Leaves won several awards and nominations on the film festival circuit, helping to smooth the way to Wild's next production, Blockade (1993). Set in northern British Columbia, that film explored the struggle between Gitksan and whites for the control of land that both groups claim as their own. The interpretation of history and even what constitutes history — oral or written accounts — play out in the court system over the 15-month period the film was shot. Feelings run high as each side digs in, using tactics they think appropriate to control their economic interests. At one point, the Gitksan blocked the Canadian National (CN) railway and the railway tried to seize the filmmaker's footage to pursue a legal case against the Gitksan. That attempt failed and Wild's independent filmmaking career continued.
Her next production was A Place Called Chiapas (1998). Again, the topic was the political and armed struggle for land control, between the Zapatista National Liberation Army and ranchers in the Mexican state of Chiapas. That struggle began officially on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, but actually predates NAFTA by many years. It also involved others such as government troops, a local Catholic bishop and the inappropriately named Peace and Justice movement whose members are really paramilitary death squads. They even threatened the Mexican members of Wild's film crew. Ceasefires and peace talks parallel the struggle for control of their land and lives on the part of the mostly Mayan members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army and it is clear there are threats from all sides and it is difficult to know who, if anyone, the filmmaker and the viewer can trust.
Wild followed A Place Called Chiapas by returning to a Canadian setting, the downtown eastside streets of Vancouver where the lives of many are hurt and often shortened by their use of drugs. Fix: The Story of an Addicted City (2002), tells the story mainly by examining the struggle of three people to open safe injection sites in Vancouver. Dean Wilson is a heroin addict and organizer with Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users; Ann Livingston is a strongly Christian, non-user of drugs who regards it as her duty to fight for safe injection sites; Philip Owen was the mayor of Vancouver at the time of filming. At first, Owen is opposed to safe injection sites but comes to see that other methods have not worked and the cost of ignoring the drug problem is too high. While the conversion of Owen from opponent to supporter of safe injection sites eventually costs him his political office, the film shows how the fight for safe injection facilities is one likely to be fought in other cities.
Nettie Wild comes from a theatre background and is accustomed to the collaborative effort that is required to make films. She acknowledges the many contributions of others to her films — cinematographers, sound recordists and writers, to name just a few — and has always been closely involved with the editing of her films. While documentaries are expected by some to be objective accounts, Wild feels it is impossible for any one human being to be objective and balanced. Rather than avoid situations, she thinks it is best to get to the heart of them. When in the middle of very complex situations, people are discovering contradictions and it is necessary for the filmmaker to choose and provide context.
While Wild loves showing movies and having a discussion with audience members after, she is not overly fond of the often lengthy time required to be on the road to do this. Still, she does find it exciting to have her films shown in cinemas, the way the films are intended to be shown, with a live audience. For that reason, she works very hard to ensure that there is always a cinema version of her films, as well as a broadcast version.
Wild is currently working on the screenplay of a feature film, likely to be called Hunger. Although she would like to produce it, there are too many variables to know if that will be possible. That project is not a turning away from documentary films, to which she plans to return, but rather, an attempt to work in another form, something that she needs to try, as an artist.
Details of Nettie Wild's work, including awards won, may be found at www.canadawildproductions.com, the website of her production company.
Barrett, Tom. "Lives on the Line." Vancouver Sun. (May 5, 1989), p. D1.
Bissley, Jackie. "Film-Maker Nettie Wild Talks about Chiapas." Windspeaker. Vol. 16, no. 6 (October 1998), p. 14.
Euvrard, Michel. "Entretien avec Nettie Wild." 24 images. No. 46 (November-December 1989), p. 40-41.
Fix: Story of an Addicted City. Directed by Nettie Wild. Vancouver: Canada Wild Productions, 2002. 1 videocassette.
Grugeau, Gérard. "A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution de Nettie Wild." 24 images. No. 46 (November-December 1989), p. 41.
Johnson, Brian D. "Guerrillas in the Mist." Maclean's. Vol. 102, no. 17 (April 24, 1989), p. 63.
Johnson, Brian D. "Masked Men and Disco Kings." Maclean's. Vol. 111, no. 38 (September 21, 1998), p. 77-78.
Lacey, Liam. "It's a Wild Road Show." Globe and Mail. (October 16, 2003), p. R4.
Lyons, Tom. "A Passion for Social Justice: The Activist Films of Nettie Wild." Take One. Vol. 11, no. 41 (March-May 2003), p. 24-26.
MacQueen, Ken. "Needles, Love and Revolution." Maclean's. Vol. 115, no. 46 (November 18, 2002), p. 120.
O'Neil, Mark. "Nettie Wild's A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution." Cinema Canada. No. 158 (December 1988), p. 29-30.
Posner, Michael. "Hanging on to the Horses: A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution." In Canadian Dreams: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films. Vancouver: Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993, p. 51-78.
Saunders, Doug. "The Camera's Unblinking Eye: Uprising in Chiapas." Globe and Mail. (September 22, 1998), p. A19.
Wild, Nettie. "Getting Aired: The 'Right' Spin." Cinema Canada. No. 158 (December 1988), p. 17-18.
Wild, Nettie. "In Search of Light on the Road to Jolnixtie." Brick. No. 63 (Fall 1999), p. 8-17.
Wild, Nettie. "Untitled." Point of View. No. 39 (Spring 2000), p. 11.
Wintonick, Peter. "Time, Trust and Money: Inside Stories about the Production of A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution." Cinema Canada. No. 160 (February-March 1989), p. 13-16.