Sturla Gunnarson's film, Force of Nature: the David Suzuki Movie, screens to sell out crowd
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WD: That's what I was going to ask you next. How did you choose what to tell, because seriously you could have a five hour film if you wanted, with a man like him. The editing process alone must have been insane trying to keep and what to leave out.
SG: I also saw it as biography of ideas. I never saw it as a strictly biographical film where you go back to the baby pictures: he was born here and then this happened. For me it was identifying those key turning points: what were the moments in his life that made him who he is or that caused the distillation of this body of thought.
That's why we went to Slocan and all those places. We didn't go there because things happened to him there, but that they were turning points. I think in David's life there are so many dramatic turning points and each of them is marked by a kind of quality of... it's like Sheba, it's creation out of destruction.
In all of the turning points there's sort of a destruction out of which comes something new. But it's not really new, it's the next iteration. He has his home torn away from him: his home is destroyed when he's six and it leads him to nature. He's horny but he has no Asian girls he can go out with and it leads him to genetics and to the swamp. His birth place as a scientist, his career is born in the place that enriched the uranium that destroyed that land of his ancestors.
Every single step has that sense of destruction and creation. It's interesting. And I think that's why he's an inspiring figure: there is always something hopeful that comes out of everything destructive.
Let's face it, this is a hopeful film about the end of the world (laughs). It's like a feel good movie about the end of the world. Because in his view there's still mystery, there's still so much we don't understand and that things are still possible.
WD: Was there anything that you filmed, that in the end you couldn't keep but wished you could?
SG: There were lots of wonderful details like in the tent when David's laying there and he just giggles. He's giggling because I said, “David, tell me about the first time that you went camping with your dad.”
It's such a great story. When David was about five years old they went down to Japan-town, they bought a tent, they spread out the tent on the floor of the store and David and his dad crawled into the tent in the middle of this store and his dad said, “David, we're going to go camping.” There were lots of details like that, that didn't make it just because you have to keep the momentum up.
I think it would have been nice... I think Tara (Cullis) is such an important part of his life and he's so lucky because he found somebody who was turned on by all those very qualities that make him the enemy of the status quo. He found somebody who is able to create an order out of the chaos of his enthusiasm. He's a very lucky man that way.
It would have been nice to incorporate her more fully into the film but the nine month period when we were making the film, there was nothing really going on and you can't create it. That would have been nice. That wasn't something I had, that I wished I could have used, it's something that I wished that I had, which I think would have made it a better film.
WD: Absolutely. She's an extraordinary woman. I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like her.
SG: Yes. I've got a lot of time for Tara.
WD: Where did you have the most fun making this film?
SG: Fishing! (laughs) I mean come on, we got to go hike in Slocan and go fishing: we got drunk on trout.
Up in Haida Gwaii Diane, Severn's (David's and Tara's daughter) mother-in-law said she would be happy to prep the fish and smoke them and stuff like that. We were past the Sockeye season: there were no fish so David and I had to go out and catch them. We caught all those salmon that she was filleting in the film.
I think all of the outdoor-ness of it, the opportunity to re-connect with British Columbia was great. I spent a lot of my youth out in the bush and now I live in Ontario. I still do a lot of backwoods canoeing and stuff like that but it's not the same as British Columbia.
WD: What has the response been to your film?
SG: Oh, jeeze, it's humbling. I didn't realize, I had no idea it had such a hopeful message as it seems to have. People have really responded to the film emotionally. Everybody's really surprised. I mean, you tell them that it's intimate but they don't get it until they see it, and people come away from it quite moved. That's been great.
We won the people's choice award at TIFF and we're running already in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal and it's doing quite well, which is remarkable for a documentary film: especially a film about the end of the world (laughs).
I knew that the film had warmth because it was made with love but it's been quite humbling to see how strongly it translates: how emotionally people respond to the film. It's been really great.
I was concerned because I have a reputation for being a bit edgy, and I kind of drank the Kool-Aid on this one.
WD: Have you heard any feedback from David about the film?
SG: Yes, I think he was quite moved by it. I think he was scared, but I think he was quite moved by it, and so was Tara. She said at TIFF, “I didn't really understand what you were doing until now.” I think both of them feel that it was done with affection and respect. As Sarika (David's and Tara's daughter) said to me, “I know this doesn't sound like praise, but there were no cringe moments.” (laughs)
WD: What's in the future for you?
SG: I'm working on something about Omar Kader but I call that my “good works” film because it has no commercial hope whatsoever. People in Canada don't care: that's sort of what it's about, the fact that civil liberties don't really mean anything if you only extend them to people you like.
There's a screenplay that I'm trying to suspend my disbelief enough to mount as a feature.