Our resilient river revealed

Nick Versteeg shoots footage for his new film Resilience, focused on the Cowichan River. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Nick Versteeg shoots footage for his new film Resilience, focused on the Cowichan River.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

Mist pierces early morning light, rising over the Cowichan River.

Majestic elk scuttle onto a river bank; fish wiggle among sunken roots; a fly-fisherman’s rod snaps hunting for fish.

Ed Peekeekoot toots magically on a wooden flute, lending scenes a mystical lilt.

Aerial shots show the winding waterway conservationists and Cowichan Tribes elders say is threatened by historical problems — and conflicting current uses.

Those issues are dramatically, meticulously explored in valley filmmaker Nick Versteeg’s documentary Resilience, premiering Feb. 19 in the Cowichan Theatre.

The big silver screen should be the best place to experience the heritage river and its complexities — shy of, say, tubing it this summer.

Versteeg doesn’t view himself as a journalist, but his 80-some minute movie sure covers all the bases.

The perfectionist was disappointed Western Forest Products and Island Timberlands declined to be interviewed for Resilience. Still, Versteeg was happy TimberWest participated.

So did a raft of locals spanning stakeholders, landowners, and Tribes members to folks from Crofton’s river-water licensee Catalyst Paper.

Versteeg’s cameras basically start at the 32-kilometre river’s source, Cowichan Lake.

That’s where controversy swirls around provincial rule-curve rules, and local control of storing water behind the lake’s weir to slake the dry river during summer when salmon need water to reach spawning beds.

Not wanting to ignore any opinions, Resilience interviews lakefront property owner Gary Fiege. He fears his property may be swamped by stored water.

Complex sides of 200-year flood levels are explained simply with dots on a map. Logging leaving bare hills around the river also appears.

Perhaps Versteeg’s favourite part is footage of fisherman Joe Saysell who helped save side-channel fry during the 2012 drought.

Stakeholder Gerald Thom urges locals to leave “an environmental legacy” while Resilience rolls toward Cowichan Bay where estuary dredging worries and derelict-boat woes meet environmental needs.

Paul Rickard, co-chairman of Cowichan Stewardship Round Table, proudly worked on Resilience for months, and helped fundraise for it. He’s happy with Versteeg’s talented use of pictures to tell a documentary story.

“It’s a way for people to see and interpret for themselves from what they see,” he said. “It’s a real talent of Nick’s; let event and pictures speak for themselves and build a sense of what’s involved.

“Nick wants the film to unfold an reveal what’s going on.”

One Cowichan director Parker Jefferson said Resilience demonstrates the community’s resilience by working together on initiatives “that will see this valley thrive for future generations, in the face of the coming climate change.”

Cowichan Tribes fisheries biologist, Tim Kulchyski, aims to attend the premiere.

“I hope people start to learn mroe and think about the term resilience, and gain an understanding that it’s about protecting the resilience of a system so it can be sustained and maintained to that basic level of health and integrity.”

One Cowichan hosts a discussion and lobby reception after the screening. Information about getting involved in river initiatives will be available.


Your ticket

What: Resilience

When: Feb. 19, 7 p.m.

Where: Cowichan Theatre

Tickets: $7. Call 250-748-7529.

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