Nettie Wild talks drugs and drama

Grade A

Nettie Wild can remember the exact moment she decided to make a film about Vancouver’s infamously impoverished downtown Eastside. The documentary filmmaker has been taking her powerful new film, Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, on tour across the country for the past year and she sat down for an interview with The Concordian earlier this week.

A few years ago, after her car was broken into and several thousand dollars worth of research and equipment were stolen outside her editing studio on the Eastside, Wild ran to the nearest dumpsters, hoping the thieves discarded her things, after realizing they wouldn’t lead to easy cash. In “Blood Alley,” as it is known to locals, she threw the lid off a dumpster and came face-to-face with a resident of Canada’s poorest neighborhood.

“I don’t know who gave who the bigger heart attack. A man was shooting up…into his groin, in the dumpster. We regarded each other for a moment. I was horrified…not just that this guy in the dumpster was living the life of a rat, but that [people like him] were everywhere…I was appalled…I’d seen the face of degradation and it was frightening.”

Soon after, she went to a meeting and heard an impassioned plea from a woman named Ann Livingston, imploring city officials to create North America’s first safe injection site on the derelict strip of East Hastings Street.

As any hapless tourist who has wandered too far east of picturesque Gastown can tell you, Hastings is only steps away from the upscale downtown core and within mere blocks of fancy shops and tree-lined streets. But it then gives way to dilapidated buildings and arguably the most blatant glimpses of human degradation in North America; the area that has a higher density of drug addicts with HIV/Aids and Hepatitis C than anywhere else in Canada.

Livinston, a non-user, a single mother, an ardent spokesperson for drug addicts and founder of the Vancouver Area Network for Drug Users, spoke with conviction and the mood of D.I.Y. social activism that swept through the room told Wild that there was, indeed, a film to be made.

After 18 months shooting on a $375,000 budget and after overcoming numerous hurtles in gaining access to the police, the (now ex) Mayor Philip Owen, as well as city council and local business owners in opposition to the proposed “safe injection sites,” Wild has emerged with a film that addresses the issue from many sides and lends an ear to all parties, though it gives the strongest voice to those who are not normally heard: the addicts themselves.

The resulting film is intelligently shot and has a surprisingly compelling narrative arch that revolves around Livingston; Dean Wilson, a former IBM salesman, who is also a chronic drug user, an articulate advocate for safe injection sites and Livinston’s sometimes lover; and Owen, who is the conservative but compassionate former mayor of the city. Thanks to these completely captivating “enormous characters,” Vancouver is now home to North America’s first safe injection site.

About her place in the realm of documentary, Wild said, “Our role of storytellers is not that of politicians or healthcare workers or even social activists…it is to tell the story as creatively and as cinematically as possible…The most important thing for a documentary is that it tells a story well and reveals human drama.

“Creating social change is not my main objective. I’m [here to] present stories that need to get out.” In the end, the main objective for Wild and her production company is to make “the best damn films we can.”

Fix is showing at CinEma du Parc Nov. 7 through 13 and Nettie Wild, Philip Owen and Ann Livingston will be hosting discussions after the early evening shows every day.

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