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FEATURE: Between a rock and a hard place

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
Rubicon’s Phoenix Gold Project’s miner David Plourde taken Feb. 23 2012.
Photo courtesy Headframe Films

Dryden ex-pat filmmaker Cliff Caines explores the depths

By Lindsay Briscoe, Northern Sun News

When he first heard about drills testing on and around residential property in Balmertown for the possibility of an open pit mine in the heart of downtown, documentary film-maker Cliff Caines says it peaked his interest as a potential subject for a film.

Caines grew up in Balmertown and spent his high school years in Dryden before heading to film school in Toronto. After an initial trip back to his hometown in 2010 and some time spent talking to people in the area on the topic, he said everyone had mixed feelings on what was happening and what it could mean for the area. Soon he knew he’d have enough material for a feature length film and it blossomed into something more complex.

“My whole purpose was to let the people actually living and working in the Red Lake area and affected by the mining industry really have their say. So the film turned into an ensemble of the community – what I call a portrait of the community through many, many voices.”

“I tried really hard not to go into this film with any sort of judgments or conclusions or even wanting to come up with an answer. The film doesn’t answer the question – and that’s on purpose – it doesn’t answer the question of how does an open pit affect the community specifically. It’s more about what it’s like living under those kinds of…threats, if you would, or those kind of major affecting changes.”

Rather than focus on the political side of mining, he wanted to explore the social and cultural impacts the “boom and bust” industry can have on a rural community and its people.

Red Lake has “been around for 90 years and I was able to interview, in some cases, families with three generations of miners…it’s interesting to see how Red Lake has weathered the storm.”

“It’s done so in a unique way. Most mining communities like Red Lake have come and gone…we had one of the longest running labour disputes in Canadian history in the late 90s – which greatly affected the community,” he explains. “People kept on repeating how it’s different now. It’s made up of a lot of new families as a result but also a lot of fly-in and fly-out workers just because of the shortage of workers and having to bring in the people to work the boom.”

He initially spent two months living in the area, researching and talking to mine employees and their families, as well as company reps from Claude Resources, Goldcorp and Rubicon, which he says was interesting, as their respective projects and input touch on the past, present and future of mining in the area. Over the course of three years, he visited the area four times, including an “intensive” five-day shoot underground when he filmed mine employees going about their every day business.

“I think people are sort of flattered that you want to film them but don’t totally understand. I explained that I’m coming from an artistic background – a fine arts background – and the idea of explaining the project as a portrait really helped.”

He hopes the film will offer a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of a resource-based rural community.

“Canada is really built on the smaller communities that harvest these natural resources and I think that these smaller communities understand what a small town means but until you live there can you really understand what it means to be part of it. It’s something I wanted to bring to people,” he says. “Coming from that community, I have a great pride in it and being a part of that sort of shapes who you are. A lot of people can relate to that or if they can’t I would like them to see what it’s like.”

Caines’ crew aims to complete the film by February 2014 in order for spring screening at film festivals around the world. A Rock and a Hard Place has been funded to this point mainly by public arts grants. If you’re interested in financially supporting the completion of this film, you may do so by clicking here.



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