Film fest brings world stories home

Most of us are relatively recent immigrants to the Yukon, and we come for different reasons. Werner Walcher came, like many Germans, for the adventure.

Most of us are relatively recent immigrants to the Yukon, and we come for different reasons.

Werner Walcher came, like many Germans, for the adventure. It was not economic opportunity but wide open spaces that drew him to Canada’s North.

But the Yukon’s Filipino community, the subject of Walcher’s latest documentary, largely come so that their children may have a better chance at life than they had.

“For the Filipinos, they’re mostly locked in their social structure back there, and they can hardly get out of this structure, even if they work hard,” said Walcher.

So they come to the Yukon under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. If they’re successful, after a two-year work contract they can apply for permanent residency and eventually bring over their families.

But a lot of Yukoners don’t take the time to get to know our Filipino neighbours, said Walcher. We see them working at Tim Hortons or Canadian Tire, but usually exchange no more than a smile.

“I don’t think people realize what these people who come here, serving you coffee, are really going through. They have to work here for two years until they can get their family in, and this is a hard time. Even now with email and Skype and stuff, there’s a lot of things you miss if you have small children.”

Walcher has witnessed the prejudice against the Filipino community firsthand, he said. When people see him interacting with Filipino friends around town, they sometimes look at him as if to say, “You talk to these people? What’s wrong with you?”

Referring to Tim Hortons as “Timmigrants” is on the most-mild spectrum of comments he has heard, said Walcher.

His documentary, Cold Paradise, will premiere at the Available Light Film Festival next week.

One woman featured in the story left her six-month-old son in the Philippines when she came to the Yukon.

“The end of the film is when she has got all the paperwork done, and she’s going to get him,” said Walcher.

It’s important to bridge the gap between the Filipino community and the rest of us now, while the economy is booming, said Walcher. Because when times are not as good and we don’t need to import so much labour, that’s when the outcry will really start that the immigrants are taking our jobs, he said.

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The movie aims to show that the members of the Filipino community are ambitious, hard-working contributors to Yukon society.

The filmmaker was invited to a birthday party for the daughter of a man featured in the movie. The house was beautiful, with a game room, a TV room, and a piano.

“But he works three jobs,” said Walcher. “And he’s cleaning toilets at night so that his daughters can hopefully go to university and don’t have to clean toilets.”

And with that kind of work ethic, the future of the Filipino community is bright.

“They’re not just doing the dirty jobs or the cheap jobs, they’re getting into business. We got the impression, maybe a generation from now, our kids will have to work for them.”

Cold Paradise screens Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. Walcher will present the film and answer questions after the screening.

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When Joshua Robinson moved to the Yukon as a university student, it wasn’t so much to find something as to get away from something. Robinson plays the role of his father in My Father and the Man in Black, another movie to be featured at next week’s film festival.

His father, Saul Holiff, was Johnny Cash’s manager between 1960 and 1973. Like Cash, Holiff struggled with alcohol and drugs and led a troubled life. He committed suicide in 2005.

Robinson didn’t have the greatest relationship with his dad, he said, and adopted his mother’s maiden name partly in response to the suicide.

When as a young man he found out he could finish his social work degree at Yukon College, he seized the opportunity.

“That was 18 years ago and I haven’t looked back.”

Now he delivers alcohol and drug counseling, and works with adult offenders in the justice system here.

My Father and the Man in Black is directed by Joshua’s older brother, Jonathan, named for Johnny Cash.

Jonathan returned to their mother’s house in Nanaimo after the suicide to help her deal with the fallout.

There, he discovered hundreds of letters written between Cash, Holiff and June Carter. There were also more than 60 hours of audio tapes recorded by his father, including conversations with Cash.

This is the first new information to emerge about Johnny Cash since his death almost 10 years ago, said Robinson.

The audio recordings are the foundation of the documentary, which explores the relationship between Cash, Holiff, and his sons.

Robinson portrays his father in silent dramatic reenactments, which give life to voices on the recordings.

“It was surreal,” he said of the experience producing the movie. “It was a mixture of things. It was fun, it was exciting, it was eerie and kind of spooky at the same time.”

The film will offer something new to the story of Johnny Cash’s life, but it isn’t only for fans, said Robinson.

“It really isn’t a Johnny Cash movie, it’s also very much about our relationship with our dad growing up and his struggles trying to manage this artist that was sometimes unmanageable.”

Making the movie was a true family affair, and it allowed the two sons to deal with some of the painful memories.

Robinson, who now has a eight-year-old daughter, was able to gain a bit of sympathy for his father, he said.

“It was cathartic in some ways because we got to act out our family dysfunction.”

The film has already been screened in a few places North America and Europe, but Robinson is looking forward to sharing it with the Yukon.

“For it to screen here in Whitehorse is really special.”

The film will screen Saturday, Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. Robinson will answer questions following the movie.

The Available Light Film Festival runs Feb. 4-10. For a full schedule of events, visit www.yukonfilmsociety.com/alff/.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com