The Taku, Stikine and Unuk are three river systems that start in British Colombia and flow out into Southeast Alaska. All three are currently being threatened by proposed and existing open-pit gold and copper mines in their headwater regions. Sisters and Rivers is a documentary film that follows the three of us as we explore these river systems. Our goal is to document the communities, ecosystems, and industries that are tied to these rivers and their salmon runs. We aim to present the risks of gold and copper mine development in these systems, and to retrace our own family’s ties to these essential salmon waterways.
Sisters and Rivers follows us as we explore these rivers from source to sea. We will travel by fishing boat, van, foot, and pack raft to interview and record the communities whose cultures and livelihoods are directly impacted by the development of these open-pit mines. We will follow the rivers to their terminus in Southeast Alaska where they support a widespread network of salmon-dependent communities and industries.
Our goal is to use our personal connection to this issue to bring forward the voices of the many individuals, communities and industries that are stakeholders in the health of these rivers and the salmon they produce. We realize that we are all dependent on mineral extraction, but we want to gain a better understanding of this issue as a whole; who really stands to benefit from these mining operations, who loses, and what we are willing to risk for the extraction of gold and copper.
What is an Open-Pit Mine?
Canada is one the largest mining nations in the world. Mineral-rich Northwestern BC shares a border, and numerous watersheds, with Southeast Alaska. It is also in the midst of a modern-day gold rush.
Over a decade of marked decline in environmental protection and an enormous infrastructure project connecting Northern BC to the power grid has set the stage for this region to be developed into one of the largest mining districts in the world. Most of the proposed and existing projects are open-pit gold and copper mines. This method of mining creates huge craters in the earth, produces acid mine drainage, and relies on the use of toxic chemicals to draw out target minerals. The process uses massive amounts of water and results in the creation of gigantic manmade reservoirs, called tailings storage facilities, that are intended to hold the waste water and toxic slurry back from leeching into the environment.
These tailings storage facilities can, and do, fail. On August 4th in 2014, the dam broke at the Mount Polley mine, an open pit gold and copper mine in the Fraser River watershed. Ten million cubic meters of wastewater and 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings were let loose into local waterways just as Sockeye salmon were making their yearly return to spawn. Mount Polley remains largely uncleaned and to date, no one has been fined or held legally responsible for the lasting damages the disaster dealt to the environment and local communities.
Despite the tragedy of Mount Polley and the risks inherent in open-pit mining, the provincial government continues to promote these mines in the pristine transboundary region of Northwestern BC.
Allison Barrett (Director) is a multimedia journalist and independent filmmaker with a BA in Journalism and a passion for connecting people’s personal stories to greater issues of public health and environmental conservation. Her work can be found in numerous Seattle area publications and beyond.
Hannah Barrett (Co-Director, Research Specialist) is a soon-to-be graduate student in Fisheries Biology. She has a drive to understand, document and protect the North Pacific Coast marine ecology that has been the backbone of her entire life. Her work has taken her from the inland waters of Washington State to remote outposts in interior Alaska. She is also an aspiring wildlife and underwater photographer.
Ilsa Barrett (Co-Director, Logistics and Travel Coordination) is a GIS and mapping specialist and a geographer who loves to produce information in a way that is accurate, comprehensive and easy for the eye to grab. Her work in mapping has allowed her to collaborate with a diverse range of land trusts, conservation organizations and environmental consulting firms. She is also a visual artist with an emphasis on drawing and painting Southeast Alaska and images of her childhood spent there.
Cheyenne Hendrickson (Cinematographer) Is an independent media producer who works in film, photography and video installation. She has a BA in Media Film Studies and an AA in Photography and currently resides just outside of Seattle, WA. Her work has been in collaborative and individual shows all over the US including Project 603 (2015), Light with Papa (2015), Example (2013), and Abandon (2012).
Alex Stonehill (Producer) is a cofounder and editor at The Seattle Globalist. He has a background as a visual journalist and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Syria, Ethiopia and Pakistan. His work has been published by PBS, The Seattle Times, FRONTLINE/World and the Seattle Weekly.
He recently directed the award-winning documentary BARZAN and he teaches journalism in the University of Washington’s Department of Communication.
We grew up working for our dad on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Southeast Alaska. After he passed away we continued to fish on other boats as it was not just a means of making a living but something that we all loved and felt a deep connection to. Our personal relationship with this issue not only increases our passion and interest in the subject, but provides a connection to the network of communities who are also directly impacted by gold and copper mining in the headwaters of these rivers systems. We want to use our connection to the issue as a platform to bring forward the voices of all stakeholders who are connected to the health of salmon that come out of the Taku, the Stikine and Unuk Rivers.
22K is the very baseline of what we need in order to produce the majority of this film.
We will be traveling by van, but British Columbia’s road network is limited and at times we will need to take a jet boat, a ferry, or a plane to access the remote areas that we need to get to.
We have most of the video and audio equipment needed to make this documentary. However, seeing as to how we will be far away from civilization for a large part of this trip we will need loads of memory cards, batteries and a way to charge remotely. We'll also need external hard drives for storing and organizing footage between different legs of the trip. Waterproof cases will be necessary to protect our equipment during the time we spend on the rivers and on fishing boats. Also, we would like to purchase a DJI Mavic Pro Drone (with extra batteries and SD cards) for capturing aerials of the gorgeous landscapes that we’ll be journeying through.
We need the proper equipment to keep us safe while we are rafting the rivers including a satellite phone, bear boxes, bear spray, first aid kits, cold water and weather gear, etc.
As far as food and accommodation goes we will be roughing it - camping and cooking for ourselves on the daily. However, we have planned for a small, but necessary hotel budget for drying out and regrouping between rivers, recharging equipment and storing footage.
Any and all funds that remain after the summer will be funneled directly into post-production, going towards developing compelling support graphics for the story and towards editing the footage into the final film.
Risks and challenges
Just kidding. But also kind of serious.
This trip has quite a few challenges built into it. We will frequently be in "off the beaten path" places, which gives filming, battery and file management a pretty high degree of risk. We will be hyper-prepared in this regard, because technically speaking, we see this as one of our biggest challenges.
The rivers we will be exploring also present specific challenges. The portions we will be exploring are not technically challenging, but they are remote. To deal with this we are committed to being super conservative with our risk management. Our decision to use pack rafts to explore sections of these rivers was in large part based on their portability, ie, we can pack out, deflate and find alternate routes around sections we deem too risky.
We have quite a few interviews and film-able experiences lined up for the summer. As with any large documentation project like this, we are bound to run into whole host of challenges including last minute scheduling issues, bad lighting, noisy backgrounds etc. We are committed to getting the most out of any situation, capturing the best possible footage, audio and emotion even when the going gets rough.
Collectively we have quite a bit of experience in shooting from the hip documentation, but we will be doing a lot of additional team training in this area. We are excited to document and share our creative, off-the-grid filming and audio solutions with you!
Also, lets be real here. We are going to be living in a van and in tents together for two months or more. That's challenging. Good thing we are used to living and working on boats! And welcome to the family Cheyenne...
We've thought long and hard about the risks and challenges inherent in this project. We've decided that while some areas push our boundaries, they are all surmountable with the right amount of preparation. Potential difficulties are putting up with in the name of bringing this story that we care so much about to the broader public!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (60 days)