You can’t undertake a 23,000 kilometre journey lightly. Not even when you are Dianne Whelan, filmmaker, photographer and fearless adventurer. She has honed her expeditionary skills at base camp on Mount Everest and on a snowmobile in Canada’s high Arctic, and she has written and made films about the experiences.
Come Canada Day, July 1, she will set out on a mighty walk, cycle, ski and paddle along the Trans Canada Trail that connects our country from Newfoundland to the Arctic to Vancouver Island and back to her home on the Sunshine Coast. It will take at least 500 days and she will trek through the seasons, wearing what she describes as solid hiking boots that she’s had for years and carrying a backpack with four stuff sacks full of cooking supplies, layers of clothing – everything from silk long johns to a jacket – camera gear, a GPS, first aid kit, bear spray, and a water bottle, all competing for space.
Whelan will be filming and keeping a journal along the way for a forthcoming book. She has rented out her home, sold her car, and let go of most of her things to help finance this film.
“This is the first piece of art being made about the longest trail in the world that connects us all on this land,” she tells Coast Reporter. “It deserves to be sincere and about sharing something, not about selling something.”
She started training last November doing 10 km hikes around the Nova Scotia coastline. When the temperature dropped and the winds bit, she was able to feel first-hand what to wear on her trip. Charlene SanJenko from the Coast’s PowHERhouse made a training video that Whelan followed. When the snow arrived she stepped into cross-country skis and cut trails through the forest on the land of her ancestors in New Brunswick. She became accustomed to going weeks without seeing anyone, and she began to write, to fill the winter silence with the soul of the next film.
Her journey has many beginnings, many inspirations. One of them is artistic. She hopes to connect with indie filmmakers on the road although she will do much of the filming herself.
She has been working with Ann Verrall, a filmmaker from Nova Scotia, on pre-production filming and is looking forward to working with her editor and co-director, Janice Brown, who edited Whelan’s acclaimed film, 40 Days at Base Camp.
“I don’t think art is an extravagance,” she says. “I think it’s about meaning. Look at Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, and see our culture on antidepressants and sleeping pills. That painting says something about the modern world that a doctoral thesis or a scientific study never could.”
Another artistic push came over a late night dinner with Giorgio Cogrossi of Ruby Lake and one of his guests, Joni Mitchell. She recalls that evening: “The talk was about the origins of creativity, following the intuitive, not being shaped by commercial interests, the sacredness of the storyteller, staying true to oneself. I left with the conviction to follow the irrational and the heart in this next film. As Renoir said, ‘Follow the colour, not the line.’”
Another inspiration is spiritual – it began with a short film she was making about the myth of the white raven and continued through a recent trip to Haida Gwaii to be part of a film festival. After a few days there, something shifted. Whelan was given a prayer and a feather by which to remember the murdered Aboriginal women. She vows to say the prayer every morning while on the trail and feel them with her.
The idea of remembering the women while on her journey had already come to her one day when she was skiing in the forests around a small Acadian village of 100 people, where seven generations of her mother’s family originated.
“Fresh snow covered everything,” she remembers. “I was alone, I had been sitting with the soul of this film for a month and suddenly the idea came to me and I started to cry. I saw the birch bark peeling from the trees and saw all the women’s names written on the bark.”
“The trail is a symbol that connects us all,” she says. “It can heal what has been wounded and remember what has been forgotten.”
Whelan appreciates the support she has been receiving from her home base on the Coast. The sponsorships will help to pay for indie filmmakers and other funds go to her food and necessities. You can make a donation through any Sunshine Coast Credit Union branch, member #74272 by e-transfer or PayPal to Rebelsisterprod@gmail.com or donate through a link on her website: www.500daysinthewild.com
If you can’t give money, there are other ways to contribute. In Whelan’s own words, she hopes for “hot meals, a warm shower and human kindness along the way.”