The Road to Hope — Prologue

Kicking off a 5,000km road trip with a cinematographer and my two kids.

Damian Kuehn
Dec 12, 2017 · 7 min read

Four years ago I decided to travel across Northern British Columbia with my two kids and a veteran cinematographer to learn more about where our energy comes from. Along the way, we spoke to local residents about the ways their communities are being impacted for better or for worse.

Beginnings

Four years ago, I did something a bit crazy. In the years since, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and the resulting artifacts are captured in words and pictures below.

My interest in current events began in childhood. Growing up, my family was intimately involved in politics as a means to effect positive change in the world, and small talk at family dinners always included a healthy dose of political discussion about current issues.

Four years ago, as a parent of two young kids, one such issue and seemingly irreversible trend had me increasingly concerned: climate change. While I felt quite strongly that we needed to do whatever we could to reverse this trend, it was clear that energy and its production were at the centre of the problem.

British Columbia, my home province in Canada, is particularly rich in energy, with a variety of projects new and old, including coal mines, fracking stations for natural gas (LNG), oil and bitumen pipelines, hydro-electric dams and, to a lesser extent, wind farms, solar, geothermal and biomass. Our provincial government had promised an economic boon from massive investment in LNG and a new multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dam, but these projects were the subject of heated debates by government, special interest groups, and the public.

News and opinion pieces in the media only added to the confusion: Where does our energy come from and how much do we really need? What effects do energy projects have on local communities and the environment? Which decisions are motivated by necessity and which are purely opportunities to grow corporate profit at any expense? My opinions seemed to be formed from secondhand — and often conflicting — information. I wanted to know more.

After attending a debate including members of government, the energy industry, and First Nations / indigenous communities, I realized that I needed to see things for myself to gain a better understanding of the situation. “Canada is the largest consumer of energy in the world on a per capita basis, and the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases”, so where better to start my investigation than in my own backyard?

I decided to travel to the source and see some of these energy projects firsthand. As I had a background in filmmaking, it seemed logical to document my travels, and it also seemed like a great idea to bring my two kids along for the ride so that they could also see more of their province. I’m very much an urbanite, and so are my kids. My parents, however, spent a number of years living in small communities around the province when they first emigrated to Canada in the late 1960’s — my father worked as a high school teacher, and my mother worked to provide resources to youth and women, who had very few social outlets in these small towns — so I felt some connection to these regions.

This story is basically my story: an “ordinary” Canadian — someone generally interested in the future of our planet, yet not sure what realistic solutions to our problems might be, and stuck in a life of consumption.

Perhaps what I did was not so much crazy, but rather was simply not well thought out. While I did spend a lot of time researching and planning, we seemed to hit snags along the way at every turn. Someone with my experience should have been able to anticipate these possible obstacles, but I was incredibly excited to get going on our journey, and dove in head first.


It all comes together

In order to make this work, I needed a “partner-in-crime” who could focus on capturing the visuals while I was driving, interviewing, and managing production duties — in addition to looking after my kids. I was funding this project out of my own pocket, in the hopes that I would be able to get enough material to pitch to funding agencies and complete the project at a later date, so we were working on a shoestring budget. One crew member was all I could afford.

I had worked with Louis De Ernsted, a veteran cinematographer from Quebec, on another project and knew the high quality of his work. I was thrilled (and surprised!) when he agreed. Super sweet, very talented, and lovingly cantankerous, Louis had spent years in the film industry in Montreal and France. He had worked as an assistant cameraman on the first Imax film, “Tiger Child”, and had shot many documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the National Film Board of Canada over the years. Throughout his career, he had traveled the world a number of times over for several feature films and series, and had won multiple Kodak and Gemini awards. Louis was now living in BC’s Gulf Islands with his partner of 20 years — having recast himself as a farmer — but he still loved filmmaking, and was kind and interested enough in the subject matter to get involved in my cockamamie project.

I was working as a freelancer at the time, and thought it was worthwhile to take a couple of weeks off for this project, and to show my kids the province. With her full-time job and associated hectic schedule, my wife could not take the time off and stayed home. My two kids were out of school for summer vacation, so it was perfect timing for a road trip.

My daughter was nearly 13 at the time, and my son had just turned 11. The other family member that joined us for the trip, and was responsible for shuttling us from place to place, was my 1977 Volkswagen Type 2, also known as “the bus” (also knows as a combi, kumbi, or bulli bus depending on what part of the world you come from). I had grown up in a similar vehicle: My Dad had owned a ‘69 model, and I had many cherished memories in his, before it was sadly scrapped. I had purchased mine a few years prior, and had spent a considerable amount of time and money restoring it. It ran quite well and, after a pre-trip tune-up, I felt (overly) confident that it would be able to make the journey across our fair province.


Preparation

My preparation for our trip was three-pronged: to learn as much as I could about the local energy projects and where they were situated; to track down interesting and notable individuals to interview; and to plan our route and organize travel details, including securing the necessary equipment to capture our journey on video.

The research didn’t prove too difficult. The beauty of all of the debate that has been generated is that there is an abundance of information out there, and it’s not very difficult to find people who have an interest in the issues on either end of the spectrum. While I did have my preconceived bias, my mission was genuinely to learn, and I found that nearly everyone I contacted was willing to be interviewed. Our biggest challenge was time — with the great distance we would be covering and our limited budget, most of our time would be spent moving from place to place. In total I set up 5 interviews with a variety of people, and hoped that we would meet others along the way who would talk to us and share their thoughts.

A new camera at the time was the Blackmagic cinema camera. Louis had on numerous occasions despaired about the form factor and challenges of shooting on a DSLR in comparison to a proper film camera, so I thought this would be a good choice for him, allowing him to use either the LCD or an attached eye piece. The Blackmagic camera also provided a dynamic range uncommon in video at the time, which seemed perfect for capturing the landscapes that I was sure we would encounter. I rented a tripod that I thought would be solid and would keep the shots both steady and fluid enough to make quality camera movements. For audio, we would record a guide track on camera, but the main audio would come from a Zoom H4N with shotgun and lapel mics, depending on the situation.

While these all seemed like solid decisions, I made a number of blunders. The first was that I didn’t have Louis test out the equipment prior to our departure. It seemed like a huge inconvenience to have Louis take 3 ferries just to come and test out a camera that had been hailed as best-in-class, so I skipped this step, despite the warning voice in my head. I also skimped on the tripod. I got one that was rated higher than necessary for the camera weight, but it was not a true fluid head, and it was not as heavy as Louis might have liked.

Nonetheless, this production, which was really a test, was costing me a lot of money, and I felt I was doing the best I could. We lined up our dates to fall within the only 10-day period that worked for both Louis and me, and suddenly — it was really happening.


Read about our adventures as we traveled to Kitimat, Dawson Creek, and Hudson’s Hope.


Thank you for reading!

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The Road to Hope

My journey across northern British Columbia with my two kids to learn about where our energy comes from and talk to some locals along the way.

Damian Kuehn

Written by

Commercial photo and video producer. Design and music lover. General people person.

The Road to Hope

My journey across northern British Columbia with my two kids to learn about where our energy comes from and talk to some locals along the way.

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