‘The Last Harvest’ was my very first experience of storytelling on film.
It was shot on 16 mm and was one hour long, so a rather big project for a visual artist without any real film experience. I had come to a subject and story that I didn't know how to paint, yet needed to express it or felt I could burst.
Unlike painting, my first discovery was that films: 1) cost a lot of money, 2) need a talented team of artists working together and 3) require a lot of stamina and a bit of luck to succeed.
How this film got done is a good example of ‘simple, creative producing’ spiced with the old practical adage ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’
The basic cost included flying a film crew to the location, renting camera equipment, purchasing film stock, getting production insurance and buying enough groceries to feed everyone. The first (of several) location shoot required $30,000 in cash in hand.
Not independently wealthy meant I had to look for various ways of raising the large amount of money (for a visual artist) to make this film. I ended up doing everything from baking hundreds of organic apple pies, to soliciting friends, acquaintances and strangers for loans, to applying for grants.
From my efforts, one person I knew but not very well, withdrew $8,000 from her Visa credit card and offered it to me as a ‘forgivable loan’. Another person, a friend, called up and gave me a $1,000 cheque, no questions asked. My daughter's boyfriend gave me a $10,000 loan. And so on, until I had enough money to begin filming.
I also wrote lots of letters asking for support to people I knew and to lots of people I didn't know with even a remote connection to my intended film.
People like Wayne Gretzy (a hockey star who lived in the same province and had lots of money), Clint Eastwood, female director Jodi Foster and singer/songwriter Ian Tyson.
Not everyone responded. But Clint Eastwood and Ian Tyson did.
Clint Eastwood was shooting his movie, ‘Unforgiven’ in the same location (Brooks, Alberta) as my little film. I was able to get my S.O.S. letter to him (with some help and luck) and was offered the use of their equipment and as my back‐ up.
In the letter to Eastwood, I also mentioned "if he liked fresh corn, my uncle (a retired farmer) grew the best corn from the back of his pick‐up truck, not far from the ‘Unforgiven’ production motel.
Clint Eastwood's office ordered dozens of corn and asked my uncle to deliver it in person, at a specific time. My uncle (who was also a huge Eastwood fan) took the corn and met his hero. Later that year, after all the filming was done, Mr. Eastwood's office called me in December to ask for my uncle's address. Clint Eastwood wanted to send my uncle a Christmas present. That became a legend my uncle loved to tell for years.
A similar story of luck came to me with the popular country western singer/songwriter, Ian Tyson.
He ended up writing and recording original music and theme song (‘Great Plains’) for ‘The Last Harvest’ after I turned up at his ranch in the foothills one stormy snowy night, hours late for our appointment and bringing along my 3 year old daughter, my father and mother. His response, "bring everyone in!"
Making ‘The Last Harvest’ was my hands-on immersion into film making. Producing, directing, editing, working with sound and music, and the importance of distribution…from start to finish.
The professionals I worked with were my teachers and they gave me my first real taste and lifelong love for this art form of storytelling.
Imagine this: on the very first day of shooting, it was windy and cold and we were filming an elderly person outdoors. I’m standing there as a novice director with an experienced documentary crew led by the award‐winning DOP, Tony Westman. And on small documentary crews, everyone pitches in to help each other, no matter who you are.
On this first day, after shooting one roll of film, the camera assistant, his hands full and trying to keep the tripod stable in the gust, asked me because I was nearest to the equipment bag, 'to please hand him a 'mag' from the bag'.
Not even knowing what a ‘mag’ was (the essential magazine loaded with film), I closed my eyes and grabbed 'anything' out of the equipment bag, handed it to the assistant and he said, ‘thanks’.
It was purely beginner’s luck.
That night at dinner with the crew, I confessed my ignorance about making films and they patiently and generously taught me everything along the way.
Since then, I’ve discovered over and over again, that the real payoff and thrill of making a film is not the finished film itself, but the magic you experience in the process of telling the story.
Canadian Heritage Award, Yorkton Film Festival 1993
Golden Sheaf Award, Best Sound, Yorkton Film Festival, 1993
Silver Cup, Philadelphia I.F.F. 1994
Silver Plaque, Chicago I.F.F. 1994
Bronze Plaque, Columbus I.F.F., 1994
Best Documentary, Banff Television Festival 1995
New York Intl Asian American Film Festival 1993
Vancouver Intl Film Festival 1993
Hawaii Intl Film Festival 1993
Bombay Intl Film Festival 1994 San Francisco Intl Asian American F.F. 1994
Cinema du Reel, Paris, France 1994
Intl CUSO Conference, Bangkok, Thailand 1995
Sydney Intl Film Festival, Sydney Australia, 1995
Prime time first window television licenses:
CTV Television Network in Canada and NHK (Japanese version) in Japan
The Last Harvest