Shadow Trap, a new short film from the producers of the award-winning documentary Fractured Land, features local scenery, many actors from Barkerville and Wells, local sled dogs and even sleds made in Quesnel to introduce audiences to the story of Simon Gunanoot.
And on Sunday, Jan. 26, producer Damien Gillis and his team will share their work on the big screen at the Sunset Theatre in Wells during a special film screening and discussion after the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run wraps up.
Shadow Trap is set in 1908 in northern British Columbia. Gitxsan indigenous businessman-turned-outlaw Simon Gunanoot — labelled a “terrible savage” for allegedly killing two white men — is in hiding during a brutally cold winter, states the film’s website. Meanwhile, in Hazelton, grubstaker Seamus Campbell and his shotgun-toting thug come to the Two Mile Saloon to collect a debt from failed prospector Danny Kelly. In desperation, Kelly impulsively decides to head deep into the frozen wilds of the Skeena Mountains in pursuit of Gunanoot and the $1,000 bounty on his head. Kelly soon realizes he’s in over his head — the hunter becomes the hunted.
Gillis is the film’s producer, co-director, co-writer and co-editor. He has directed and produced many short documentaries and has worked as a journalist.
For this film, he has worked closely with co-director and co-editor Michael Bourquin and lead actor Jerome Turner, who plays Simon Gunanoot and also helped research and craft the dramatic series based on the story of Simon Gunanoot.
The other lead actor in the short film is Brendan Bailey of Wells, who plays Danny Kelly. Bailey will be familiar to many people as Richard Goldsworthy at Barkerville Historic Town and Park.
Michelle Lieffertz of Wells, whom you may know as Miss Bella Hodgkinson at Barkerville, is the costume designer for Shadow Trap.
Gillis and his team filmed Shadow Trap last February in Barkerville.
While travelling and filming Fractured Land in the north, Gillis had been hearing about Simon Gunanoot and this story, and it really stuck with him.
“This story is one that caught my ear and really interested me,” he said. “This is the best story I ever heard in Canada.”
After receiving a Harold Greenberg Fund grant, Gillis had the opportunity to develop a story, and he reached out to the family of Simon Gunanoot. He has worked closely with family members in creating this film.
Gillis was able to access some funding to do a short film as an experiment in taking this story to a bigger audience and in putting a team together. The hope is that this short film will turn into a much bigger project.
Gillis says Barkerville Historic Town and Park was the perfect fit for their project.
While Simon is from Hazelton and the Kispiox Valley, snow conditions have been pretty hit-or-miss, and because this is a winter story, they really needed snow, which is one of the reasons Barkerville was a great choice for filming, explained Gillis.
“[Barkerville] checked all the boxes we were looking for,” he said. “Barkerville had typically great snow. It had the old buildings we needed; it had a wealth of actors who played people in that period.”
They needed two dog teams for the filming, and they were able to procure them from Prince George and Quesnel and benefit from the expertise of a very experienced dog team advisor in Jeff Dinsdale, who also made a sled like the ones that would have been used in that time period.
“There were a lot of great people in the area who had a real interest in this world we were trying to build, and it also had all the props and buildings that would have looked how it did,” said Gillis. “Barkerville has great infrastructure. The Wells Snowmobile Club and staff at Barkerville were extremely helpful. We even used the vintage printing press of the Cariboo Sentinel to create the wanted poster for Simon.”
At the Sunset Theatre after the conclusion of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, there will be a film screening and a discussion with some of the local actors who were part of the film, the production team and Harvey Gunanoot and Gilbert Johnson, two descendants of Simon’s that Gills has been working closely with. Some of the mail run mushers were involved in the filming as well, such as Jody and Kim Verge and Sally Swan, and they will be there too.
“We’re going to have a discussion about the making of the film,” said Gillis. “It was a challenging experience but very much an experience where everyone pulls together in challenging circumstances. Everyone is so passionate about the project.”
Gillis says the temperatures were often down around -32 C, and they would be out filming in that for 12 to 14 hours.
“It wasn’t hard to make it feel really, really cold — because it was,” he says with a bit of a laugh.
Gillis says in the early 1900s when Simon and his family were on the run in northern B.C., it would be as cold as -70.
“That just adds to the legend of him and his family,” said Gillis, noting Simon had his two small children, his wife and his brother- and sister-in-law all with him for the first winter. “It’s a remarkable story of survival and of people working together.”
Gillis is excited to share the film on the big screen at the Sunset Theatre with so many people who helped make it happen.
“It felt like working with a family in Barkerville,” he said. “People stick together and work together really well, and we were so lucky to have that support from … people with snowmobiles, with a big snowcat, the knowledge of the backcountry and the excitement of making the film. They really jumped on it and wanted us to make the best film we could. There were always people to help us, and we’d like to share this with them, and hopefully they are proud of what they see.”
Gillis is also looking forward to introducing Simon Gunanoot’s family to Barkerville and Wells because they weren’t able to be there for the filming last winter.
“I’m really excited to show there were we did the filming and at the same time take in the mail run,” he said. “You couldn’t have a better package for people than having some of the dogs in the mail run in the film. It all kind of ties everything together.”
The film screening takes place Sunday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. at the Sunset Theatre in Wells.
The Shadow Trap team has sold the Canadian rights to the show to Crave TV. Starting in April, it will be available across the country to Crave subscribers. As well, they are submitting the film to international festivals this year.
“I’m excited to share the story with a wider audience,” said Gillis. “We have such incredible stories in Canada. We often don’t recognize that and celebrate our own stories.