Now Is the Time
| 16 min
Selections and Awards
Indigenous Category Golden Sheaf Award Winner Golden Sheaf Award, Yorkton Film Festival, Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada (2020)
Documentary Arts/Culture Category Golden Sheaf Award WinnerYorkton Film Festival, Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada (2020)
When internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson was only 22 years old, he was instrumental in changing the history of his people forever. With help from his grandparents, his father, and his younger brother Reg, Davidson committed to carving the first new totem pole in Old Massett in almost a century.
On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village gathered to celebrate the event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.
Resplendent with animation, emotional interviews, and original footage shot by what was then known as the NFB’s Indian Film Crew, Now Is the Time captures three generations of Eagle and Raven clan working together to raise the pole in the old way, inching it higher and higher, until it stands proud and strong against the clear blue sky.
In 1969, when internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson was only 22 years old, he was instrumental in changing the history of his people forever.
During visits to museums in Vancouver, Davidson had seen photographs of Old Massett Village, with its forest of totem poles facing the sea; but at home there was nothing left. It wasn’t just the totems that had been razed and destroyed: Haida songs, ceremonies, and culture had also been obliterated. “I would go and visit the elders, and they seemed really, like, not connecting to anything,” he says. “I could feel the sadness, and I wanted to create an occasion for them to celebrate one more time.”
With help from his grandparents, his father, and his younger brother Reg, Davidson committed to carving the first new totem pole in almost a century.
On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village gathered to celebrate an event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit. Resplendent with original footage shot by what was then known as the NFB’s Indian Film Crew, Now Is the Time is filled with archival images, animation, and emotional interviews with Robert, Reg, and Haida scholar Barbara Wilson.
The film’s bright, kaleidoscopic scenes show women dancing in their bare feet, men egging each other on, elders wearing paper headdresses, and children drawn in gorgeous watercolour hues. Everywhere is the sound of laughter and tears, as three generations of Eagle and Raven clan come together to raise the pole in the old way, inching it higher and higher, until it stands proud and strong against the clear blue sky.
In his studio, Robert Davidson smiles at the memory. “I was just a young smart-aleck kid thinking I was going to teach the elders something, but it turned around,” he says. “It was the other way around.”
A Message from Robert Davidson
When internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson was only 22 years old, he carved the first new totem pole on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century. On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village of Old Massett gathered to celebrate the event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.
On the 50th anniversary of the first new totem pole raising on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps through history to revisit the day that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.
With the release of Now Is the Time, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide some context for the story of the pole raising that took place in Massett on August 22, 1969.
For several decades, Massett did not have any totem poles or art because of the restrictions from Canadian laws under the Indian Act, which was first passed in 1876. This Act was later amended to outlaw us from practicing our ceremonies, including our songs and our dances.
It has been 50 years since my brother, Reg, and I carved the totem pole for Massett. My family, including my parents, Claude and Vivian, Naanii Florence and Tsinii Robert, and Susan, was tremendously supportive throughout that time. My uncles, Alfred Davidson, Sam Davis, and Victor Adams, my aunties, and many Elders provided me guidance for the project and the celebration on the day of the pole raising.
Dad, of his own free will, walked the forest for two weeks looking for a suitable tree. Mom and Susan gave unending support throughout the summer. Audrey Hawthorn, then Curator of the UBC Museum, applied for and received a $3,000 cultural grant for this project. Naanii and Tsinii provided endless guidance and support and opened their home to host numerous meetings with the Elders to discuss history and what was involved in raising a totem pole. All of the preparation and consultation with the Elders took place during the summer at those meetings. Song and dance practices were held after the meetings, and Naanii even demonstrated one of the dances with a brown paper bag with holes cut out for her eyes because we had no masks. It was truly a spiritual experience seeing all the joy expressed through the Elders’ singing and dancing – these Elders who were all 70 years old and over. After school was out Reg helped to carve. Even though it was the first time he had ever carved, it was as if he had carved before. We worked 10-12 hours a day, six days a week most weeks.
The idea to carve and raise the totem pole in Massett was inspired by my friendship with the Elders of the day. When I moved to Vancouver, I saw the great art of my ancestors then I came home and saw no art in the village, because we had been muted and outlawed from practicing our ceremonies and way of life. I also sensed a feeling of sadness from the Elders, and I wanted to create a reason for them to celebrate one more time in a way they knew how. This motivated me to commit to carving the totem pole. There was never a question or doubt from my parents or grandparents that this could be accomplished.
The sun shone brightly on the day of the totem pole raising. It was like magic. The pole was raised as if it was an everyday event. We were all guided by a power greater than ourselves. Tsinii helped Dad to give direction to the pole pullers. After the totem pole was raised, people spontaneously began to sing and dance around the totem pole. Many of the Haida wore paper headpieces, and there were only two drums, one was a toy drum that my tsinii used. It was a celebration – a rebirth – we were able to reconnect with our spirituality once more. Many Haida from Skidegate and Hydaburg and yaads xaadee from out of town came to witness the pole raising and be part of the celebration.
That evening a potlatch was held in the community hall that was co-sponsored by the Massett Band Council and the Davidson family.
Take a moment and imagine our world without art. Now imagine that after nearly a century without art, an event occurs that allows it to come flooding back again.
On August 22, 1969, the small community of Old Massett on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off Canada’s northern Pacific Coast, erected a 40-foot totem pole carved by 20-year-old Robert Davidson and his 14-year-old brother, Reg. The ceremony was led by community elders who ensured it would be conducted in the old ways. Ways that had been banned, pushed into the darkness and nearly forgotten. When Robert started carving the pole earlier that summer, the elders began to gather, hosting meetings where they planned out how to do it all traditionally, thus teaching a new generation the cultural ways of the Haida.
The raising of the totem pole in 1969 freed so many aspects of our culture from the confines of homes whose curtains had been drawn to keep the eyes of the authorities and the church reverend from seeing the Haida customs being practised. It freed carving, singing, dancing, regalia creation and the potlatch ceremony. (The potlatch, a system so critical to the functioning and stability of Haida society, had been banned for nearly 50 years.) The totem-pole raising was a new beginning, sending a signal to the Haida people that it’s okay to be you, it’s okay to create works and live in your unique way.
Flash forward to the present, and a half-century separates us from that remarkable day in Old Massett. I can see what a difference that day has made for my community, the difference it made for me growing up on Haida Gwaii—how as a young boy, I heard Haida songs and saw Haida art on our kitchen window in the mornings as I ate my cereal. I was immersed in those aspects of our culture; it just was. Robert Davidson (the carver of the totem pole) grew up in a different era. He didn’t hear his first Haida song until he was 16 years old. So, he did something about it: he carved, and it helped open a locked door, which allowed a culture to thrive again.
So, imagine your world without art, and now, through my film, witness for yourself what happens when art is brought back again. Experience the joy!
Waats’daa, Christopher Auchter
Director of Now Is the Time
Writer & Director
Photo : Tracy Auchter
Christopher Auchter grew up roaming the beaches and forests of the Haida Gwaii archipelago off Canada’s West Coast, and his art is rooted in the land and stories of the Haida people. His art practice is fuelled by his close connection to the natural environment, his adventures in forestry and commercial fishing, and the colourful people with whom he has lived and worked. He began using images to capture his feelings and impressions early on in his life, and today his filmmaking serves the same function.
Auchter studied media arts at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and graduated with honours in computer animation from Sheridan College in Ontario. His goal is to create films that are as engaging and entertaining as the many people and environments that have inspired him, to help facilitate genuine contact between the Haida people and the global community.
Auchter’s directing debut was the multi-award-winning animated short The Mountain of SGaana. His previous projects include Daniel Janke’s How People Got Fire, Electronic Arts’ NHL Games and Nintendo’s Punch Out!, and he is a regular contributor to Loretta Todd’s TV series for children, such as Coyote Science and Tansi! Nehiyawetan. He has illustrated three children’s books, including Jordan Wheeler’s Just a Walk, a comic book by Richard Van Camp called Kiss Me Deadly, and a graphic novel by W.L. Liberman entitled The Ruptured Sky: The War of 1812.
Photo : NFB
Selwyn Jacob joined the National Film Board’s BC & Yukon Studio in 1997 and has gone on to produce nearly 50 NFB films. His many credits include Crazywater, directed by Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen; Hue: A Matter of Colour, directed by Vic Sarin; Mighty Jerome, written and directed by Charles Officer; and the digital interactive app Circa 1948, by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas. Jacob’s most recent feature documentary credits include Mina Shum’s Ninth Floor, about the infamous Sir George Williams Riot of 1969 that was selected to TIFF’s 2015 annual top ten list of best Canadian films, and Baljit Sangra’s Because We Are Girls, exploring the impact of sexual abuse on a conservative Indo-Canadian family living in small-town British Columbia.
Photo : Emily Cooper
Shirley Vercruysse is the Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada’s BC & Yukon Studio, where she leads the team producing documentary and animation projects. The studio’s latest projects include the feature-length documentaries The Whale and the Raven and Because We Are Girls; the musical documentary The Road Forward; the animated shorts Shop Class and The Zoo; the short documentaries Way of the Hunter and Now Is the Time; and the Webby Award-winning documentary series True North: Inside the Rise of Toronto Basketball.
Photo : Emily Cooper
Teri Snelgrove is the Associate Producer at the National Film Board of Canada’s BC & Yukon Studio, where she’s worked on acclaimed documentaries such as Highway to Heaven (Sandra Ignagni), Because We Are Girls (Baljit Sangra), The Road Forward (Marie Clements), Debris (John Bolton), and Beauty (Christina Willings), as well as the interactive project Bread (Mariette Sluyter). She’s also worked on several animated films, including The Mountain of SGaana (Christopher Auchter), Shop Class (Hart Snider), and The Zoo (Julia Kwan). Teri is a Newfoundlander and a graduate of the film/video program at the Emily Carr Institute (now University).
And the Voices of
Written and Directed by
Director of Photography
Sound Design & Re-Recording Mixer
First Assistant Camera
Stop Motion Animation
Stop Motion Animation Consultants
Tracy & Tony Auchter
Maddex & Logan Auchter
Kevin Borserio (Skidegate Haida Immersion Program)
Dr. Margaret B. Blackman
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Now is the Time was filmed on location
on the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo, Tsleil-Waututh,
S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō),and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations
Royal BC Museum and Archives
CBC Archive Sales
Peggy Lee, Violoncello
David Brown, Contrabass
Cameron Wilson, Violin
Genevieve MacKay, Viola
Katja De Bock
Executive Producer, BC & Yukon Studio
Executive Director, English Program
Michelle van Beusekom
Produced in association with Knowledge Network
©2019 National Film Board of Canada
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.