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Beauty in the Bush - Nettie Wild's KONELĪNE Screens at Hot Docs

Finding beauty in unexpected places is the leitmotiv of many works of art, and Nettie Wild's new feature documentary KONELĪNE: our land beautiful is no exception.

Filmed in northwestern BC, the film is a cinematic homage to one of the world's last wildernesses and its people. Rather than using a thematic or chronological storyline, it uses a series of vignette-like sequences revealing, but not commenting, an unexpected array of characters and places.

KONELĪNE will have three screenings at Hot Docs (April 28-May 8 in Toronto) in the Canadian Spectrum program.

"I'm kind of tired of smart films with smart people wagging their finger at people telling them how the world is going to hell in a hand basket if people don't change their lives," says Wild, who brought on a curious camera rather than a condemning one.

Wild says she assumed there is a heart that beats and beauty in every human being she talked to, whether it was a diamond driller or a First Nations family fishing in the river.

Says Wild, "What happened, was magic. We got surprised, over and over again."

The film includes a lot of iconic images, but also stereotypes that go crushing down. It's not a sacred movie, says Wild: "One of the rules that we had when we were shooting was that if it looks like a shot from a beautiful British Columbia magazine, we cut. And if it looks like an abstract oil, we'd roll."

Director of photography Van Royko and his camera department shot surprising and remarkable imagery, including a guide outfitter who has her horses swim across the vast Stikine River and walk over a glacier (lensed by Royko), the world’s biggest chopper flying 16,000-pound transmission towers over mountaintops, and the linemen on the ground fixating them (by Patrick McLaughlin), a slow-motion sequence of a First Nations tribe transcended by a traditional song (by Jordan Paterson) and magnificent drone footage looking down at the Earth (by Grant Baldwin).

One of the tools Royko used was a DJI Ronin camera stabilization platform "combining dolly and Steadicam", visible in scenes such as a spectacular dog sled sequence.

Wild is familiar with northwestern BC through extensive traveling on horseback and she is wildly passionate about the land. But, as the granddaughter of a miner, she wasn't out to get people who make a living of local resources.

She managed to convince locals as well as companies and even her crew of her purely artistic approach.

"When you say to them, 'you know what, we're going to make a piece of art this time out', they really respond," she says. "I found this throughout my entire career. The best way to treat a crew is to acknowledge that they're real artists."

Wild credits Betsy Carson, her production partner at their company Canada Wild Productions with finalizing the budget.

"Betsy is a complete magician," says Wild. "We pulled off a huge film on a not so huge budget and that meant that every single person who was involved in this production went many extra miles to make this happen."

Without the initial support from the NFB, Creative BC and the CMF pre-development fund, this film would not have been made, says Carson. "I can't stress how important these agencies are to the development of documentaries in British Columbia and nationally."

"We managed to get [broadcast] financing, thanks to high heavens, from Super Channel to getting the ball rolling," says Wild, who acknowledges Super Channel Exec Maureen Levitt's support to make an art film: "She's our own secret weapon." Super Channel gave the first broadcast license, which opened the doors to the rest of the funding. 

After Super Channel's commitment, Canal D and the Knowledge Network came on board as French language and second window broadcasters respectively, says Carson. Additional funding came through the CMF English POV program, Rogers Documentary Fund, the Shaw Media/Hot Docs Fund and the Telefilm Theatrical Documentary Program (Rogers participates in this program as well). The provincial and federal tax credits filled out the rest of the budget.

Crew included editor Michael Brockington, sound designer Mark Lazeski, original music by Jesse Zubot and Hildegard Westerkamp, location sound by Kyle Petty and Lisa Kolisnyk, additional cinematography by Nettie Wild, Vince Arvidson, Athan Merrick and Michael McKinlay, supervising re-recording mixing by Daniel Pellerin and colourist Andrea Chlebak.

The company website states its "unique form of distribution, which blends broadcast television and theatrical screenings in cinemas with community based forums in order to bring these stories to the Canadian public.”

Wild admits it's complicated, but in a nutshell, it means a grassroots distribution in the Canadian market, which they have done for 25 years.

Carson adds their theatrical rollout is typically at least two years and often up to three years of ongoing and intensive work, including screenings at festivals, but also in remote areas where the filming has taken place, as well as in major and smaller cities and communities in regular and art house cinemas, followed by a panel discussion or Q&A. They also make DVDs and Blu-Rays available for purchase.

KONELĪNE: our land beautiful will be accompanied by a digital media component, North through South, which was financed by Super Channel, the CMF and the Bell New Media Fund and will be launching in the summer, adding another layer to the promotion of the broadcast launch this fall. 

However, go and watch the film in a theatre, if you can, says Wild. "I want people to see it in Cinemascope with surround sound. It is a whole different experience."

By Katja De Bock
Photography courtesy of Canada Wild Productions

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