Documentary filmmaker explores Alberta history through Indigenous stories
Film follows passions and challenges of young man trying to make a go of fur trapping
A Calgary-based documentary filmmaker says he's drawn to Indigenous stories because he wants to better understand the history of his chosen province.
Chris Hsiung is the producer of Fox Chaser – A Winter on the Trapline. It follows the passions and challenges of a northern Alberta Indigenous trapper, Robert Grandjambe Jr., facing the consequences of industrial development.
Hsiung spoke with The Homestretch this week.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.
Q: What is the film about?
A: It's about a young trapper in northern Alberta who is pursuing this passion in really what is a dying way of life up there.
It's something that gives him a deep sense of freedom in a world that is a really beautiful world, the trapping world, that exposes people to a whole other way of life that is being lost.
Q: Why did he choose this path?
A: It is something he has grown up with since he was six years old. That's when he caught his first fox. He trapped it. He sold it for $10 and bought food for his friends.
He's been hooked ever since. He family did it as well, before.
Q: What struggles are trappers facing now in northern Alberta?
A: This is what makes Robert Grandjambe Jr. have a really unique perspective.
He traps during the wintertime but he also works for the industry during the summer. He really sees a lot of the impact of not just the oil and gas industry but agriculture, the pulp mills.
He has a view that the source of all of this development is our demands for a lot of the modern conveniences we take for granted.
It has been moving a lot of the wildlife away from the area, so he is seeing a lot less opportunities to trap.
Q: Could you make this a full-time career?
A: I would say it's a very difficult thing to make a career out of, but he is making a go at it.
Most people do it as a hobby, but it's an enormous amount of work. It's probably 14 hours a day setting, visiting, clearing and fixing traps.
He has to trap in a number of traplines in order to harvest enough furs to be able to make a living out of it.
Q: What animals does he trap and then what does he do with them?
A: There are martens, wolverines, lynx, the occasional wolf, minks, and all sorts of animals that develop a fur during the wintertime.
He will often use the meat, then strip down the fur and sell that fur at an auction.
Q: What did you learn from making this film?
A: Being a city person, I got to see where the food comes from. I got to see animals harvested or killed and we got to eat it that night. So there is this direct correlation between the animal and food.
I also got a strong sense of the winter of the north and what it takes to survive there. It is also dangerous, but luckily I had my director and director of photography keeping me alive up there. You have to be prepared.
Q: How did you prepare for that?
A: Wearing warm clothing. We also decided we needed something to send emergency text messages with because there is no cell service up there.
Unless somebody knows we are out there, help maybe a long time coming.
Q: What about the equipment?
A: Our equipment did worse that we did. When it's that cold, the screen often blurs. So it's often hard to focus and sometimes it would just shut down.
Q: Why are you drawn to Indigenous stories?
A: My parents immigrated from China and we don't have a strong sense of home.
For me, home is mostly Calgary and maybe a bit of Banff and even some West Edmonton Mall. I realized I needed to learn more about what Alberta was all about and the Indigenous stories are a big part of that.
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With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch