In August of 2005, Dr. Shawn Dalton approached me with the idea of creating a multimedia resource focusing on land and water use and management practices in the Canaan-Washademoak region in south-eastern New Brunswick, Canada.
The Environment and Sustainable Development Research Centre, of which Dr. Dalton is the Director (then a research associate), has been co-ordinating the Canaan-Washademoak Watershed Association since May 2002 to help foster better planning and management decisions within the watershed. The association encourages multi-stakeholder input and participation from citizens, industry, local planners and politicians, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists. To date, CWWA has produced two public documents that discuss the changing nature of life in the region.
The first, entitled, "Living With The Land: Our Watersheds In Times Of Change" introduced homeowners, farmers, foresters, fishers, and visitors, to the idea of watersheds, their importance, and best management practices that help identify and correct potential environmental problems they may encounter in their working landscape. The second, "Living With The Land: People And Resources", explored the history of land use and social interactions in the region and how these depended upon, and have been shaped by, the waterways and other natural resources in the area. Of particular interest was how people's uses of their resources and interactions with their communities have changed over time and what this means for the Canaan-Washademoak region today.
In addition, Ron Jenkins, CWWA's field manager, prepared a 97-page report in August 2003—"Evaluation of the Canaan-Washademoak Ecosystem"—which investigated the current health of the watershed in terms of water quality and riparian zone status, and made recommendations for approaches to sustainable management of the system. Also, in 2005, an integrated study of the role of agriculture in the Canaan-Washademoak watershed, with specific reference to the social and economic trends influencing landscape change, was produced by Heather McTiernan, a graduate of the M.Phil. Policy Studies Program at UNB Fredericton.
Initially, the multimedia project was envisioned as a 5–7 minute video spot which would focus on land use and best management practices, and which would be distributed free-of-charge to new and existing residents and visitors in DVD and VHS format. With this in mind, I pieced together a draft script from our existing documents and reports on the region and, armed with a Sony DCR-HC90 mini-DV camcorder and a Canon SD400 digital camera, travelled to Washademoak Lake and the Canaan River and began to shoot.
Filming took place in a wide variety of locations, and required travel by foot, truck, boat, and even light aircraft.
Within a few weeks it was obvious that the project was becoming grander in scale and would, indeed, have greater import if it were extended beyond its initial boundaries. A decision was made to invite commentary by residents on their loves of and concerns for the landscape of the region, as well as changes to their communities and landscape that they may have witnessed during their lifetimes. In all, six residents were interviewed on camera, all of whom featured in the final documentary. Ron Jenkins also appeared on-screen to discuss the water quality monitoring and electrofishing studies undertaken by CWWA in the watershed, while Dr. Dalton contributed audio commentary on CWWA's mandate, which was included at the closing of the documentary.
Dr. Dalton and I revised the initial script, extending the narration to reflect the wider focus of the project, and I invited Pierre Loiselle (journalist and producer) to do the voice-over and on-screen narration. I had met Pierre for the first time only a few weeks previously while both of us were working as AV techs at a conference on First Nation language education at St. Thomas University. I spent a week on tenterhooks while Pierre read the script. Finally, while attending a watershed symposium, I received an enthusiastic email of support for the project from Pierre. Thunderbirds were go!
Filming of Pierre's on-screen spots occurred at various locations throughout the watershed and was completed within a week. High-quality audio for all narration and interviews was recorded direct to disk using an Azden SGM-1X shotgun mic, my iBook G4, and SoundStudio. This audio was later synced to the low-quality audio track of the video footage using Apple's iMovie, cleaned up with SoundStudio, and then substituted for the low-quality audio tracks. Pierre's voiceovers were recorded at the CHSR community radio station at UNB Fredericton.
Construction and editing of the documentary was achieved using iMovie. Initially, Pierre's on-screen narration spots and audio voice-overs were laid down as the basic video and audio tracks, with edited interview footage spliced into these basic tracks as required. Additional assets such as photographs, pictures of historical documents (provided by residents of the region), maps of human ecosystem framework variables—produced by James Bornemann and Reid McLean—and other diagrams were added to improve the flow and add interest to the audio. Occasional animation of photographs was achieved using Still Life, with SketchUp used to illustrate diagrams.
The final piece of the jigsaw required the inclusion of a musical soundtrack to the documentary. Although this was one of the last elements to be added, it was, in fact, the first asset of the documentary I began working on when the project was initiated.
Writing and performing music is a first love of mine and over the years I have amassed a treasure trove of instruments, recording equipment, and software. Typically, I would reach for my analog recording and mixing gear to do most of the initial work, relying on software for post-production and digital mastering. However, I had spent some time with Apple's GarageBand prior to beginning my work on the documentary project and had found it very user-friendly and versatile.
Using a combination of samples and "real" instruments, I produced a themed piece that could be deconstructed and extended as necessary for inclusion with the video and audio tracks. However, the final cut of the documentary only uses the first theme of this track and, in fact, a score is only featured in the opening and closing sequences and the credits. This decision was made after viewings of earlier incarnations of the movie—where music featured more frequently—felt somewhat sentimental and lacked balance.
As initial copies of the movie were to be distributed as DVDs, I wrote a shorter piece that would feature as background music to the menu screen. A version of this piece was also chosen to accompany the closing sequence and the credits.
To complete the project, Apple's iDVD was used to produce finished DVD copies, with iMovie used to export a modified version* of the documentary to mini-DV tape which could then be used to make multiple VHS copies. [*The opening sequence was altered to account for the absence of an interactive menu screen.]
In total, project took 3 months to complete and was a very enjoyable experience—it's hard to beat any creative endeavour that utilizes so many skills!
The next step, of course, is to distribute the finished documentary to reach as wide an audience as possible.
To date, the movie has been shown to community members in the Canaan-Washademoak region, to graduate students of the Canadian Rivers Institute at UNB Fredericton, to a visiting group of researchers from the Canadian Water Network, and was submitted to and featured at the First International Water and Film Event as part of the 4th World Water Forum being held in Mexico City. DVD and VHS copies will be made available to new and existing residents of the Canaan-Washademoak watershed and showings will be held within the local communities and in Fredericton.
At 50 minutes, the documentary is about the right length for airing on local TV stations and the chaptered nature of the DVD format makes it ideal for viewing and discussing over a number of class periods in local schools.
Finally, access to the CHSR campus radio station and to podcast technology (see previous blog entry), presents opportunities to re-edit the existing documentary audio—including, perhaps, additional audio from resident interviews—to produce elements for a hosted radio show or web broadcast of the material.
Currently, a low-quality version of the movie is being hosted online at Google Video (see below). Eventually, I hope to make a higher-quality version available to all visitors to the ESDRC website.