A Haida artist animates an old fable

Christopher Auchter, creator of the brilliant Haida short film The Mountain of SGaana has strong words of gratitude for his Auntie Shelley, who gave him the opportunity to attend high school in Victoria. For medical reasons, she had moved to the city from Haida Gwaii, where Christopher’s secondary school had only 145 students. His aunt’s invitation to move in with her led to graduation from Oak Bay High School, where he’d advanced his art and woodworking skills and gained admission to Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. There he focused on hand-drawn animation techniques. A year in the computer animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario gave him the 3D digital skills that the market was then looking for.

Auchter got a foot in the door with the National Film Board when he was hired to do the charcoal drawings for the short animated film How People Got Fire (2008) directed by Daniel Janke. His career was launched.

Completed in 2017, The Mountain of SGaana is a wordless depiction in delightful hand-drawn imagery, of a Haida tale told to a fisherman by Mousewoman, a favourite Haida creature from the spirit world. Mousewoman knits a blanket that illustrates the story of sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat and his beloved Kuuga Kuns. SGaana (Haida for killer whale) captures the hunter who has been taking his prey and takes him to the underwater world. Kuuga Kuns dives in to save him.

“In the original tale, it is the wife who is captured and Naa-Naa-Simgat who saves her. “I switched the roles,” says Auchter, “because I was surrounded by so many strong Haida women, especially my Auntie Shelley. I wanted to show that strength in my telling of the story.” Having made the choice to eliminate dialogue from his film, Auchter brought in music. Another of the strong women in his life, his sister Nikita Toya Auchter, sings a Haida song to accompany the animation.

What makes this short so distinctive is the incorporation of Haida motifs. Auchter is the great-great-great grandson of Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920), the carver most associated with the preservation of Haida art forms, which had nearly disappeared after European contact.

The Mountain of SGaana has done well on the festival circuit and on Wednesday at the Capital 6 cinemas in Victoria it is coming home. Through an arrangement with the NFB, the Capital 6 Indie Film Series will present a short ahead of its feature film. Auchter’s short will precede a screening of This Mountain Life, a documentary directed by Grant Baldwin.

The Mountain of SGaana

Drawn and directed by Christopher Auchter

Screening Wednesday, November 14, 7 p.m. at The Capital 6, Victoria, BC

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