Saltair-based filmmaker Bob Ennis shares the story of the making of Wellness to Wilderness an award-winning documentary.
Working as producer and director on a one-hour special documentary called Wellness to Wilderness was one of the most rewarding movies I have ever worked on. I have had a great fun adventure and gratifying career and felt that it was time to put something back, to help a very worthy cause by volunteering my time and energy into making a movie for the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, located just 10 minutes west of Parksville in Errington, B.C.
Wellness to Wilderness, a feel-good movie that has won eight film festival awards around the world, tells the story of a Canadian couple who have grown a grassroots organization dedicated to the rehabilitation and care of injured and orphaned animals into a world-class facility — North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. They specialize in black bear rehab and work extensively with bald eagles on Vancouver Island.
In 1989, I was the Director of Photography on a TV series called Danger Bay. I got a message that the producer would like to see me in his office. I didn’t have great memories when I had to go to the office back in my school days, so I was a bit apprehensive. But when I went in, Harold Tichenor, the producer, smiled, handed me a script and asked if I would volunteer to shoot a movie for the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre near where he lives. I said I’d love to — after all, Harold was my boss.
We got a little film crew together and brought along Donnelly Rhodes, the star of Danger Bay, to do the on-camera narration. The story opened up with a little girl who found an injured bird. She took it to her mother who said we must take it to the Wildlife Recovery Centre, as they will know what to do.
Back then the centre was nothing like it is now. There were a few outbuildings, some cages, and a make-shift building with a blue tarp for the roof. It was made for the eagles to fly back and forth to get exercise, helping in their recovery.
We shot a nice sequence: releasing an eagle back to the wild with the Qualicum First Nations during a colourful ceremony by the ocean. At the end of the movie, a sea gull was released down by some docks. The gull was soon joined by another, and they flew off together into the sunset. Robin Campbell, NIWRA founder, said, “Found a friend already,” which became the title of the movie. And for me, I also found some friends already in Robin and Sylvia Campbell, who have enriched my life. That was 25 years ago — a quarter of a century.
In the year 2000, I got together again with Robin and Sylvia to make a new film, which we called “Beyond the Fence,” but it was made for the 4 x 3 aspect ratio, which has since been replaced by the 16 x 9 aspect ratio for HD 1920 x 1080 widescreen TVs. For that reason, we needed a new movie to fit the new widescreen. Susan Teed volunteered to do the editing and co-produced Wellness to Wilderness with me.
Since I had all the new HD camera equipment by then, I figured we could do a short movie that would take about two months of shooting and editing. That became two and a half years. So many new events were happening -— the new secret garden, the outside bear enclosure and the magical field of stones — and nobody gave us a deadline to meet.
It’s amazing how many qualified movie professional people are living here on the Island willing to volunteer their time. I was able to get Curtis Robinson to work with us. He did second camera with me on a TV special called Rodeo Riders, shot in Alberta and B.C., following the Indian Rodeo circuit. I am glad to be still alive after being chased by a bull. It was nominated for best cinematography at the 2011 Leo Awards.
I was also able to get Gary Prendergast — he was my camera operator on The Beach Combers. We are still working together after all those years, but now it’s mostly on our golf games. Paul Manly, who shot Voices of the River, about the Nanaimo River Watershed, was glad to come and help out. Richard Boyce helped us immensely; he made the movie Coastal Tarsands: Journey To Deleted Islands.
Located near the wildlife centre are a blueberry farm and a bed and breakfast that has a sound studio run by Richard Sales. He is was instrumental in making the music tracks and recording for a music video called “Wild Again.” It won the Rising Star Award at the Canadian International Film Festival and is included in the movie.
As I was working on Wellness to Wilderness, the idea was always forefront in my mind to have the award-winning music composer Michael Richard Plowman create the music for our movie. I dialled the 604 number in Vancouver. As it rang for awhile, the thought came to me: What am I doing calling this world-renowned music composer who is in so much demand? No harm in asking … I’ll leave a message anyway. A groggy voice answered. It was Michael — he was in the South of France, and it was 3 a.m., but he was in. What a score!
The first thousand DVDs ordered flew off the shelf in a very short time, so get yours quickly. Proceeds from DVD sales go towards operating the centre. The DVD sells for $14.25, and you can order it online at niwra.org, or, better yet, jump in the car and visit the centre yourself.