Jumbo Wild: filmmakers take on icy controversy

Local News
Paul Walde conducts a performance of "Requiem for a Glacier" on a glacier. Photo by Douglas Noblet.
Ajtony Csaba conducts a performance of “Requiem for a Glacier” on a glacier in Jumbo Wild. Photo by Douglas Noblet.

In July 2013, sound artist and composer Paul Walde, accompanied by a crew of about 100 people, trekked to the Farnham Glacier in the Kootenays to perform a four-movement orchestral requiem for a unique audience: the landscape itself.

On Dec. 11, Sweetgrass Productions and outdoor apparel company Patagonia are releasing a new documentary, Jumbo Wild, which includes original footage from the performance of Walde’s “Requiem for a Glacier.” Walde, a UVic Visual Arts professor, wrote the piece to raise awareness of the threat to glaciers posed by global warming and resort development. Jumbo Wild details the conflict over a proposed year-round ski resort that would affect more than 6 000 hectares of the Central Purcell Mountains, B.C.

The feature-length film documents the 24 years of opposition from the Ktunaxa First Nation, conservationists, biologists, hunters, backcountry skiers, and snowboarders against plans for a $1-billion mega-resort in the heart of the Jumbo Valley, Qat’muk in Ktunaxa. The proposed development area is a beloved region of wilderness for local residents and is sacred to the local Ktunaxa Nation, who have declared themselves “expressly opposed to the Jumbo Glacier Resort.” A CBC poll found 80 per cent of residents in both the Columbia and Kootenay communities that border the Purcell Mountain range disapprove of the resort.

“Every great architect must have his cathedral,” says developer Oberto Oberti in Jumbo Wild. “Up to now I have only built small churches. Jumbo is my cathedral.” The successful Italian-born architect has become well known for his persistence in pushing the contentious project forward since 1991. However, the development is currently at a standstill after its Environmental Assessment Certificate expired following evidence that the project had not been substantially started by Oct. 12, 2014.

B.C.-based organization Wildsight has been leading the Jumbo Wild campaign since the resort was first proposed, says executive director Robyn Duncan. “The fight to Keep Jumbo Wild [sic] is a fight to protect the sacred territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, a fight to protect one of the last remaining intact wildlife corridors for grizzly bears in North America, a fight for communities to have a say in our future that matters more than a corporate interest.”

Jumbo Wild also highlights other threats that glaciers are facing, including the impact of climate change, as well as how existing ski resorts in the Kootenay region rarely reach full capacity. The Jumbo Wild campaign works collaboratively to secure permanent protection for the Jumbo Valley, which lies just beyond the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy.

Walde is interested in the connections between landscape, art and identity, and the conflict in the Jumbo Valley provided a source of inspiration for “Requiem for a Glacier.” “It was really responding to the needs of a community, and my own interests, and how those things dovetailed together to make something was really exciting.”

Teams of professional filmmakers, audio engineers and mountain guides accompanied the 40-person orchestra and 30-person choir. It was an “amazing group of people that ranged in age from 12 to 84. They were all in it for different reasons but they really came together,” said Walde.

As with traditional requiems, the composition is in Latin, “but the twist is that it’s the translation of the B.C. Government’s press release approving the Jumbo Glacier Resort development.” Walde added that it was “a little bit humbling and also very, very gratifying” to watch the performance of “Requiem for a Glacier.”

Walde hopes Jumbo Wild will draw attention to “the importance of wild spaces” and he also suggests that people “find out about other issues in their own community . . . We can’t turn everywhere into shopping malls and survive.”

Wildsight’s Duncan agrees, and urges people to get involved with the Jumbo Wild project. “We are lucky to have the opportunity to protect this special place and I hope the film inspires people around the world . . . to take action to protect Jumbo and to get involved in the issues taking place in their backyard.”

Patagonia Victoria, located at 616 Yates St., will host a free screening of Jumbo Wild at 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, and the film will also be released on Netflix and iTunes on Dec. 11. A standalone art installation that grew out of Walde’s performance continues to be exhibited in galleries across Canada and internationally.