I was first fascinated by orcas as a child, when I read the book “ Siwiti – A Whale’s Story” by Alexandra Morton. Later, Free Willy became my favourite movie starring Keiko the killer whale. I would watch this movie on repeat as a child and I could not get enough watching the killer whale.
Meeting Rob Stewart changed my life.
Rob Stewart was a mentor for me. His film, Sharkwater inspired me as a filmmaker. As a student at Sheridan college, in the Advanced TV and Film Program, I interned with Rob Stewart’s film production company, Sharkwater Productions for a month in 2011. Rob’s new documentary film Revolution was in production. It was like a dream come true. I went to Rob’s house in downtown Toronto every day and I learned working behind the scenes on Revolution alongside Rob and his assistant director, Jen Zabawa. I helped with research, reaching out to environmental experts and booking Rob’s interviews. We promoted fundraising events and pushed for Toronto to ban the shark fin trade with the Fin Free campaign. Rob also had started United Conservationists to inspire organizations to work together to preserve and care for our planet. I helped to promote United Conservationists and Revolution events on social media including posting to the Sharkwater and Revolution social media pages. After my internship, I attended a Revolution work weekend and rough cut screening at Rob’s cottage in Muskoka. Rob was very thoughtful and open to honest feedback on the film and the direction that it was taking. He was always looking for ways to improve and make his work the best that it could be.
I have always been fascinated with the orcas. I applied to volunteer at Orca Lab for the summer of 2012 as a filmmaker to document the whales in their natural habitat. Once accepted I realized this was my opportunity to make a film with the orcas taking centre stage. I was so excited to finally be in a place where I could live amongst orcas and be with them in the wild. I realized it was where I always wanted to be. I wanted to make a film that was going to share in the world of the killer whales and raise awareness of their importance on our planet.
Killer whales are facing a lot of challenges in our ever changing planet. I knew about a lot of the issues from about what is happening with the orcas from my own research but being there to witness it was much different. Seeing how many boats are on the water each day tracking them down is shocking and Paul Spong helped me appreciate orcas as acoustic creatures and that boat noise and proximity disturbs them. Talking with Alexandra Morton about sea lice and learning about the impact of farmed salmon on wild salmon; the primary food source of the resident killer whales was eye-opening. Our oceans are changing because of human impact and it was shocking to learn about some of the other things affecting the orcas health and wellbeing that are addressed in the film; ocean acidification, dead zones and plastic pollution.
Being among the whales on the Johnstone strait was heaven on earth for me. Waking up to the morning mist and the sun peeking through the clouds was mystical. Hearing whale blows was calming and amazing and just living in the moment without worry of the daily stresses of my life back home in Ontario. I was living in a hut with nature surrounding me. At night, waiting for the moon to rise and cast a glowing light over everything was a magical experience that is hard to put into words. I am thankful for the experience of going there and it has changed my perspective about what is important in my own life.
Interviews for the film were done one-on-one in a very intimate atmosphere. I think that listening to the stories feels more personal, like the interviewee’s are speaking right to you. There is a closeness there and it is very personal. I try to bring viewers on a journey that is hopeful, without getting overwhelmed about the challenges we face.
My biggest concern, is that people need to realize that as humans we are deeply connected with mother earth and the plants and animals that live among us. We are all connected to each other in one way or another and we must respect that. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves.
I learned a lot about myself while making this film. I learned about being patient with myself and with others. Thinking back on the making of this film, I think I would not have decided to make a documentary film about the orcas, without the inspiration and support of Rob Stewart. He really taught me how to dream big and to go after my dreams. He cared so much and really wanted to see me succeed as a filmmaker, and also making this film the best that it could be. I will be forever grateful to have met and learned from Rob and it is a gift to have him in “To the Orcas with Love”. My hope is that his messages will continue to inspire others to care for our planet.