Canopy cruiser

Richard Boyce's latest film takes viewers on a tour of the rainforest canopy

Richard Boyce begins his commute to work high up in the old growth forest canopy in a remote part of Vancouver Island while making his latest film

Richard Boyce begins his commute to work high up in the old growth forest canopy in a remote part of Vancouver Island while making his latest film

When Richard Boyce thinks about gardens, he doesn’t look in the dirt down under his feet, but rather, high, high up in the air.

Those gardens, located deep in the old growth forests of northern Vancouver Island, are rare marvels, he says, natural wonders seldom seen.

Boyce, a filmmaker from Errington, is sharing that wonder next month in Vancouver, when his latest work, Rainforest, screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

“They accepted the film and will be screening it on October 11 and 12,” Boyce said. “The Vancouver International Film Festival is a world renowned film festival, and to be part of it is a real honour and a privilege.”

For that honour, Boyce is giving viewers the privilege of joining him in the treetops in the ancient forests just north of the isolated Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island. It’s an unique perspective on an entirely unique world, far above the ground.

“I started the project seven years ago,” Boyce said. “A friend took me on a kayak trip to the most remote part of Vancouver Island, to Klaskish. When I got there it was just overwhelming, the beauty and the pristine nature of this place. It was obvious that First Nations had lived there for centuries and I immediately wanted to make a film.”

The film, he said, is about his journey to explore the aerial gardens, high up in the forest canopy.

“These are places, hundreds of feet in the air, where soil has built up to the point where there is a wealth of growth, small trees, mosses, flowers and ferns, all suspended in the canopy of a tree,” Boyce said. “I was lucky enough to meet a native elder, Kwatsistella, or Adam Dick, and throughout the film I refer to him and ask him for information about the things I’m discovering.”

The film also explores some of the many examples of culturally modified trees in the area, some of which seemed to defy explanation, at first.

“There was an abundance of culturally-modified trees and things that I just can’t understand,” Boyce said. “I looked at one tree and there was a huge, gaping hole out of the side of it, but the tree was doing fine and was healthy. Someone had altered that tree for a specific reason. When I showed Adam the photo, he said it was a pitch well, where they tap into the pitch of a particular tree, and those would be dotted around village sites all up and down the coast.”

Making the film, he said, was technically difficult, with a team of highly-skilled climbers rigging a system of cables that allowed Boyce to get his shots.

“The highest I got was 65 metres,” he said. “That always took a few people and a lot of time and effort to make it safe, so I could film up there. We would spend days up there, preparing so I could take these beautiful shots moving through the canopy. We rigged ropes and then I had other climbers who would move me along the rope, using pulleys and cantilevers, so I could handle the camera.”

Boyce said he has a healthy respect for heights, and there were one or two times when that came very much to the forefront.

“As any human being, I obviously respect heights and sometimes it would be nerve-wracking,” he said. “If I spent too long in one position I would get nervous, but I had trust in the ability of the ropes and the people I was working with.”

That trust proved well-founded on one day’s shoot, when a sudden onslaught of high winds caught him high up in the canopy. It was too dangerous to attempt to make a descent from that height in such a wind, Boyce said, so he just had to hang on and ride it out.

“We got caught in a wind one day and that was pretty interesting,” he said. “The trees don’t move in unison, so you get extreme vertigo. The tree coming towards you is coming quite quickly and then it slows down and then you move away from it even faster. It’s quite the visual.”

That day, Boyce spent six hours up in that tree.


The technical challenges of working in the treetops was only the start of Boyce’s journey, however. He still had a long road ahead of him, and it had already been a long road behind.

“We went to the Banff International Film Festival and pitched the idea to broadcasters,” he said. “We got lots of pats on the back, but no money. Then I decided to use climbing in the trees as one of the main factors of the film, so I learned for two years how to do that properly with a camera and eventually I was lucky enough to get funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the B.C. Arts Council.’

With funding in place, Boyce then began his adventure in earnest.

“I went about filming the lion’s share of the film, which of course is over 400 kilometres from here. It takes 10 to 12 hours to get there, and even then you’re just at the end of a logging road and you either have to kayak or do some serious bushwhacking. I’ve done both.”

Boyce then went into the editing process, working to turn the 80 hours of raw footage into a tight, informative and entertaining package.

A pitch at the Whistler Film Festival also gave Boyce many pats on the back, but no funding. At that point, he decided to go it alone.

“By this point it was on my own dollar,” he said. “I finally spent six months in Montreal with some colleagues at EyeSteelFilm and spent that time editing with them. They believed in the project enough to provide me with in-kind services.”

What they came up with, when the last edit was done, he said, is pretty entertaining.

“Photography of incredible rainforest that nobody knows exists is the centrepiece of the film,” he said. “It is also presented in such a way that it is very unique, not your typical documentary. Much more is left to the audience to venture into a place they know nothing about and find things along the way.”

If his showings at the Vancouver event proves as successful as he hopes, Boyce said he has visions of his documentary being picked up by a television station — and it doesn’t have to be one based in North America. Because of the festival’s international stature, the movie will get exposure right across the globe.

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs Oct. 11 and 12. See website at for details on times and locations.


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