The Lake / nx̌aʔx̌aʔitkʷ
Documentary – like drama – thrives on charisma. John Bolton wisely begins his film with Delphine Derickson, a sylix Okanagan elder, a singer and teacher with dancing eyes and a joyous gift for expressing herself. “For my people, everything is connected, everything has harmony, everything has sound, everything has song… I remember as a little girl looking at the stars and everything was singing,” she says. That’s a magical perception of the world, and you can understand how it appeals to Bolton, who specializes in exploring music on film (notably, Aim for the Roses; he also produced the upcoming Doug and the Slugs and Me).
Another ambitious project, The Lake / nx̌aʔx̌aʔitkʷ was inspired by a rare production of Barbara Pentland’s modernist opera of the same name, staged on the shores of Lake Okanagan, on the very ground where Susan Allison (the nineteenth century settler woman who is the opera’s heroine) used to live. This has “local interest”, of course, but as we have been learning, the pioneer narrative (even derived from relatively sensitive women like Allison and Pentland) obscures and erases uncomfortable truths. Heather Pawsey, the singer who championed the production, was fortunate to encounter Delphine, and the two of them collaborated musically and politically to address some of the problems. The film – which includes several extracts from the opera – doesn’t shy away from other issues: casting a Caucasian as Indigenous and casting a Korean-Canadian as metis, for instance. But it’s clear the artists entered into this work with generosity and openness, and that while the road to Reconciliation will be long, it’s a rewarding journey. Bolton’s film, which presents Indigenous voices – and language – at its centre, is a fine example of that.
Ultimately, The Lake is a meaningful attempt to be many things: a history of a rare Canadian opera and its contemporary revival, part musical-documentary, and at least partially a work on the complexities inherent in respectful cross-cultural collaboration.
Paloma Pacheco, POV magazine
August 5 only: Director John Bolton will attend the screening.
August 9 only: Singer Heather Pawsey will be available for the screening’s Q&A.
Heather Pawsey, John Bolton