Tag Archives: invasive species

Stanley Park Ecology Society: Creative Upcycling Project

This film was commissioned by The Stanley Park Ecology Society to document the first part of their Creative Upcycling Project in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, Canada. Biologist Erica Forssman, shows volunteers how to remove invasive plants, such as Himalayan Blackberry and English Ivy from Blowdown sites, where sunlight has given these plants an advantage over native species. Environmental Artist, Sharon Kallis then helps to repurpose the removed material, that would otherwise be considered waste. With help from SPES Stewardship Coordinator, Sam Cousins, volunteers weave blackberry wattle fences and install ivy Bio-netting  to restore the eroded banks of North Creek, an environmentally sensitive site in the park.


My short film “Joined by Thread” will play at GREENTOPIA, a film festival in Rochester New York, on March 20, 2015.


“Greentopia | FILM is a collection of films that inspires and transforms, and ultimately empowers the audience to create sustainable changes in their own lives and communities. Local and global, online and in communities around the world, Greentopia | FILM represents the work of a diverse group of independent filmmakers that will initiate conversation on the most important topics of the day. The 2015 edition of the festival will feature five days (March 17-21)  of primarily non-fiction films – each film kicked off by lively buskers and other artistic performances and followed by engaging, challenging, and stimulating panel discussions.”

JoinedByThreadGTP-FILM official_sel_2015-01 copy


This short film follows a group of women who work together to create a wedding dress from two older dresses. Ashleigh, the bride to be, her mother Lynda and her future mother-in-law Rose, meet with environmental artist Sharon Kallis, who helps them to see the beauty in reclaimed fabric, the history imbedded in our clothing, and to avoid the crass and wasteful “Wedding Industry” that promotes an unsustainable, consumer lifestyle.

I was fortunate to have another opportunity to work with my friend and frequent collaborator Sharon Kallis, in a realm I had little knowledge of: weddings, and in particular, the wedding dress. In much of contemporary western culture, the wedding ritual has become commercialized to the point that meaning has been stripped away from many of the most beautiful moments and replaced with a pumped-up orgy of expense, competition, and waste. In this case, the humble act of sewing, and the sharing of family history through fabric, reveals a richness that has no price tag.

It was a challenge and an invaluable learning experience to shoot solo in a very confined space where events unfolded quickly and unexpectedly. I am in debt to all of the participants who were so generous and open in sharing a very intimate and emotional moment on camera.

Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival

My short film: THE WEAVER’S CIRCLE is playing at the KUALA LUMPUR ECO FILM FESTIVAL this coming weekend.

Weaver'sCirclePosterThe screening is at 11:00 am on Sunday, October 19th, 2014 at the Black Box. Many thanks to the organisers and volunteers who make this festival happen. For information about the festival, check this link: http://www.ecofilmfest.my/


Commissioned Films

Over the past year I have been commissioned to produced several short films documenting the activities of local ecologically minded art collectives. At present, I am working on another group of similar shorts, all with the purpose to highlight the small, but significant activities of grass-roots, community based artists, particularly those that work outside the consumer/gallery model of western art. Most recently, I completed the first of three films that document the CONDUIT project, by the ART IS LAND NETWORK, an artist collective “whose shared connection is the use of natural and repurposed material to engage with the landscape.” The year long project at the DR. SUN YAT SEN PARK in Vancouver, involves three separate groups of artists, working with the public in different ways within this stunning urban park. The first component is called CONTOUR.

Another project that I covered in the past year stems from my previous involvement with URBAN WEAVER, a group formed by Sharon Kallis and Todd DeVries, working out of the McLean Park Field House in East Vancouver. YEAR TWO follows the many projects that the group undertook, including growing and processing flax into linen, traditional Haida cedar weaving, and erosion control methods using culled invasive plant material.

A YEAR AT ABERTHAU follows three artists in a community based project entitled FLAX = FOOD + FIBRE. Artists Caitlin ffrench, Mirae Rosner and Sharon Kallis held numerous public workshops that focused on the growing, processing and spinning of flax, and the ways that this ancient practice spill over into other art forms, including weaving, dance, music, and earth sculpture.

These projects embody a contemporary trend in the arts that highlights local landscapes, skills, and history over the monolithic forces of consumer culture, the international art scene and mainstream media-based culture. Participating in communal, hand-based art forms can be an awakening to another way of living and seeing the world.

Urban Weaver Project

In recent months, I have made several shorts which document the Urban Weaver Project, a group dedicated to finding uses for invasive plants as replacements for traditional weaving materials. Based in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver near where I live, the group has transformed the McLean Park Fieldhouse into a studio/research facility/community meeting place.

Shooting Joy at Lost Lagoon iris pull

Urban Weaver works in conjunction with the Stanley Park Ecology Society and has focused on three invasive plants that have become established in the park: Himalayan Blackberry, Yellow Flag Iris and English Ivy.

Working closely with environmental artist Sharon Kallis, I have learned not only about the threat of invasive plants, but of their potential to bring people together to share skills, artistic vision and a sense of community. Learning about weaving, fiber production and the historical significance these technologies have had in different cultures has been eye-opening, particularly in light of the global monstrosity the clothing/fashion industry has become.

Sharon harvests Himalayan Blackberry

Blackberry weaving by Joy Witsche

The Weaver’s Circle

While at Capilano University  I made a ten minute film entitled “The Weaver’s Circle”about environmental artist  Sharon Kallis. In it she articulates ideas about the importance of sharing knowledge, working with local materials (particularly green waste) and building community through shared projects and goals. I was interested in the idea that this kind of community engagement can act in opposition to the consumer lifestyle that so much of the world seems locked into. Learning how to make something, sharing the results with others, finding out some history about materials, traditional techniques and the cultures that surround them is like opening a window into another way of thinking and living.

Sharon working on willow fence around the Women’s Memorial in Crab Park

Much of the film plays out in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, a place in the midst of much change as old neighbourhoods are being displaced with new, high priced developments, and local history is paved over. The willow fence weaving project around the Women’s memorial in Crab Park is an important image for the film. The location has many layers of meaning and history that are visually present, most notably, the proximity to Centennial Pier where gantry cranes unload thousands of containers of consumer goods, marked with brand names of luxury products. Close by, are the older buildings of neighbouring Gastown and Japan-town, where single occupancy hotels stand next to newly renovated lofts, flanked by highrise office towers and the mountains of the North Shore. This location frames the story of Sharon in the larger context of a neighbourhood and a city in a time of globalisation. Living steps away from the park, she is a resident who has a vested interest in her community.

With Ken Matheson and Robyn Thomas interviewing Greg Ferguson of Stanley Park Ecology Society

Also important to me is the chain of people involved in the Urban Weaver Project, from biologists, to Parks board officials, to First Nations artists and to people living in the area. This is not a story of a guru, but rather a person who wants to make connections with others, in a series of small, positive steps. It is largely about hand made objects and processes using non-manufactured materials, taking place in small pockets of activity and green space within the city, part of a network of people involved in overlapping visions of a better world and their part in it.

The story I set out to portray is local with global implications. It concerns individuals and small communities in the shadow of larger forces which threaten to swallow local knowledge, traditions and history. The message I would like to put forward is that this humble practise can be a catalyst for community engagement and an antidote to consumer culture and urban alienation. Sharon is an artist who has begun a journey of rediscovery of traditions from past cultures, who valued things made by hand, by people who understood the land and the things that lived around them. The central motif of the film is the idea of weaving – of natural materials, ideas, traditions and history, and how this has a quiet, political force.

Willow fence around the Memorial for Missing Women in Crab Park

I worked with a terrific crew again on this film: Derrick Daniels, Robyn Thomas, and Ken Matheson, with Marina Dodis doing a special stint on camera. Michelle Mason was my supportive and encouraging faculty mentor.