Breast cancer documentary lures NFB north

Werner Walcher is not “an old, strange man making a film about women’s breasts.” But the 54-year-old filmmaker was worried that…

Werner Walcher is not “an old, strange man making a film about women’s breasts.”

But the 54-year-old filmmaker was worried that this was how he’d come across.

When he first decided to shoot a documentary about the Paddlers Abreast team’s Yukon River Quest adventure, tempered with stories of the women’s battles with breast cancer, Walcher was advised to take his wife with him — so the paddlers wouldn’t think he was a creep.

It worked.

And over the last two years, the women’s team has shared many intimate, personal stories with Walcher.

When he pitched his new film idea to various networks, including Discovery Channel and the W(omen’s) Network, Walcher was told the idea of the River Quest was good, and they liked the notion of filming Yukon summer, but as soon as cancer stories were mentioned, he was turned down.

Walcher, who has worked with the National Film Board in the past, asked its advice, and his film was snapped up.

“I looked at his proposal and right away I saw the potential for this film,” said Vancouver-based NFB producer Selwyn Jacob.

“It will resonate with the community — the community of cancer survivors and the Yukon community.

“And the story will paint the landscape so people can appreciate it — it’s a no-brainer.”

Walcher, who produced an eight-minute short with the NFB last year, is relatively new to film.

“I’ve only been doing it for two or three years,” he said.

After 25 years mushing dogs in Germany, Walcher moved to the Yukon and stopped.

“I’m on my third life already,” he said with a laugh.

“And I have plenty of friends with dogs, if I wanted to go out.”

Walcher ended up spending a lot of time with an older fellow who still shoots film in 16 mm.

“And I went out with him a few times to make images of caribou,” he said.

But when Walcher got into film, he went digital.

“So, we banged heads a couple times,” he said.

His first film, for CBC North, was a documentary on the mail run between Carcross and Atlin.

Now, Walcher was filming dog teams instead of driving them.

One of three northern filmmakers chosen by the NFB for a short, he then shot a film that looked at mushing from a dog’s perspective, called Dogs in Concert.

Self-taught, Walcher is still learning about film.

And this week, he is living a dream.

Working with the NFB and local crew, Walcher will be shooting shoulder-shoulder with one of his favourite documentary filmmakers, John Walker.

“I never dreamed of having him onboard, and now he’s my cameraman,” said Walcher.

The crew is following the River Quest by boat and RV.

Paddlers Abreast will also have a camera in its voyageur canoe, to film the jokes, songs and laughter that usually accompanies the paddling, said Walcher.

Last year the women’s team set a personal best for the race, finishing in 60 hours.

But this year, on its sixth race, Paddlers Abreast is willing to lose a few hours for filming.

“However, when they get in that river, it’s still going to be a race, so, we’ll see,” said Walcher, who needs to pull up alongside the team’s canoe every three hours, to empty the boat-cam’s hard drive.

The film crew also hopes to get in the air before Dawson, and shoot some scenes by helicopter — “to get some aerial shots of their tiny boat in that vast wilderness — just to show how lonely it all is,” said Jacob.

But Paddlers Abreast isn’t lonely.

Last year its members finished the 743-kilometre race laughing and joking.

“And I hope it’s the same this year,” said Walcher.