Damien Gillis’ family has a long history of working in the resource industry in B.C. but the Carihi grad has a different take on the goings on in the province.
He tends to engage with issues that involve the environment, the Canadian resource economy and the intersection of settler culture and indigenous people — “The clash of these different cultures and ideals and attempts to reconcile.”
A documentary film maker and editorialist at the Common Sense Canadian, Gillis recently showed his film Fractured Land at the Timberline School Theatre.
“I’m not a reporter, I’m an editorialist,” Gillis said. “So when I take a position on something it is my prerogative to do that. The way it is presented, it is not my job to necessarily present both sides of the story, it is to try to understand both sides of the story but I am valued because of my opinions, not because of my necessarily trying to please everybody.”
He was 11 years old when he worked alongside his aunt, the lone environmentalist in the family, on his first environmentalist campaign. He gathered signatures for the petition to protect the Carmanah Valley.
He went around saying he wanted to be an environmentalist after that, but his grandfather, who has been supportive of his career since, took him aside to have a talk around then, and for awhile Gillis said that steered him on a different path.
Fresh out of UBC with a degree in religion and the arts and an undeclared minor in film studies, Gillis worked in commercial production.
His first foray into alternative media was when First Nations groups were protesting the construction of the highway to Whistler for the Olympics.
“I found that what was being reported in the news just didn’t add up to me,” he said. “So I took my camera out to this place called Eagle Ridge Bluffs and I met with some of the people that had been protesting this development, some of them had gone to jail and really felt strongly that there was a better way to build this road that didn’t involve destroying this sensitive ecosystem.”
Two elderly protesters were arrested, and Gillis said they were asked by the court to promise not to protest ever again. He was struck by the unfairness of it all.
“The way I see this play out is there is these people who have a very good point, and they are not getting it across, they are not being listened too, the media doesn’t really understand what is going on, the legal system is entirely skewed against them and there is an incredible kind of imbalance of power, there is an injustice there,” he said.
Since then Gillis has been giving a forum to “insightful voices who don’t necessarily get published in the media” on his website The Common Sense Canadian.
He has worked on documentary projects about salmon farming, political party discipline on top of his award winning documentary Fractured Land. He also writes for The Tyee and DeSmog Canada.
“Documentary is really about taking people into a world they haven’t experienced and telling them a great story,” he said.
Gillis’ love of film grew from spending time in the movie theatre his grandparents owned in Terrace, B.C.
“I visited there many times as a kid,” he said. “I always loved hanging out in the theatre in the projection room watching my uncle putting the movies on.”
Though Gillis wanted to make movies he didn’t have a step-by-step plan that he followed to get where he is today.
“There’s no right path and ultimately I didn’t consciously create the path that I travelled,” he said. “I sort of put one foot in front of the other and when I saw an interesting side path I maybe ventured down that.”
For those interested in film making, Gillis said the best thing he ever did was get a camera, learn to use film editing software and start making movies.
“I think following your passion is probably the best way to develop new opportunities,” he said. “When you put yourself out there and you really care about what you are doing and you create good work there is always going to be doors that open up from that.”
Gillis recently moved back to Campbell River and though he is keeping his eye on a number of issues in the documentary genre he also plans on trying his hand at narrative films.
This is a continuation of our series about Campbell Riverites who went on to do great and interesting things. If you know who I should write about next let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-287-9227.