York student premieres documentary at Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Film reel

York University master’s of environmental studies student Tamo Campos is the co-director of The Klabona Keepers which is set to premiere at the 2022 Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRWFF) at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto on Thursday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m. 

The Klabona Keepers film poster

The Klabona Keepers is an intimate portrait of the dynamic Indigenous community that succeeded in protecting the Sacred Headwaters, known as the Klabona, northwest British Columbia, from industrial activities. Spanning 15 years of matriarch-led resistance, the film follows a small group of determined elders in the village of Iskut as they heal from the wounds of colonization to push back against law enforcement, the government, and some of the world’s largest multinational companies. Nestled between scenes of stand-offs and blockades, land defenders reflect on how their history of forced displacement, residential schools, and trauma strengthened their resolve to protect the very land that was essential to their healing journey. 

This documentary was made by two non-Indigenous filmmakers, Campos and Jasper Snow-Rosen, who happened to stop at the Iskut gas station in 2013. What was meant to be a pit stop turned into a conversation, then an invitation and finally being asked by the community to film their action. The Klabona Keepers were in the midst of mounting active blockades against Fortune Minerals in the Klappan area. The two filmmakers used their cameras and gear to upload footage of the blockades, allowing the community to gain crucial media attention by shining a spotlight on what was happening. Their quick dip into Iskut turned into seven weeks on the blockade, and their lives were turned upside down by the courageous stand of the Iskut elders. Inspired by the strength and purpose of the Klabona Keepers, the two friends began to come to the region for months every year to connect with the community, whether filming blockades, supporting youth outdoor trips, or simply nurturing friendships.  

In 2015, Campos and Snow-Rosen began working on a feature film. Created in a spirit of constant collaboration and with direction from the elders, The Klabona Keepers is a love letter to the community that changed their lives. Its ambition is to capture the beauty, resilience, and intricacies of a long fight in hopes of inspiring a better future. The community changed these filmmakers’ lives, revealing a unique lens into a worldview where health and healing depend on the land. The filmmakers volunteered to make the documentary as a gift to the elders; it is meant to share the story of their powerful motivation with the next generation in Iskut and beyond. 

“My MES research at York U explores the growing field of ‘mpact producing’ in Canada. The term ‘impact producing’ describes an emergent field within Canadian documentary that combines distribution, community outreach and audience engagement into formalized campaigns for social change. This work is carried out by impact producers. As the Documentary Organization of Canada explains, ‘Impact producers devise and execute a strategic campaign including distribution, communications, outreach, social engagement and marketing to maximize the social impact of a film.’ A subsection of this research involves the examination of the impact strategies being used for The Klabona Keepers. I made this film over the course of eight years, and it tells the story of a small Indigenous community fighting to protect their Sacred Headwaters,” says Campos. 

Campos is a filmmaker, impact producer, community organizer and extreme sports athlete. His films include Ru-Tsu (2020), The Radicals (2018), A Last Stand For Lelu (2016), Northern Grease (2013) and more than 50 shorts. Campos embeds himself in the community wherever he goes and is dedicated to combining social impact with his adventures in sport, activism and filmmaking. His previous projects have had a strong outreach focus that collaborated deeply with participants within his films. His work has focused on Indigenous land defense, Indigenous health models, climate justice and anti-racism. He is also the co-founder of the non-profit collective Beyond Boarding, and a board member of Rediscovery International. Campos is also currently an Impact Fellow for Story Money Impact, a Canadian organization growing the field of impact producing. 

“The community of Iskut successfully defended their traditional territory against natural gas drilling and coal mining,” says EUC Associate Professor Martha Stiegman. “This is what the assertion of Indigenous jurisdiction, of Indigenous law looks like. It’s the kind of climate action all Canadians need to find ways to support – in working towards reconciliation, and in the name of ensuring a livable planet for future generations. The collaborative process Tamo and Jasper used in making The Klabona Keepers, and the impact campaign they are building with this film, does just that.” 

A trailer of the film can be viewed on the film festival’s website. In addition to EUC and the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Languages supporting the promotion of the film premiere, EUC will also be hosting an elder to travel to Toronto to attend the event. 

The Klabona Keepers is one of five documentaries playing at the HRWFF. Tickets and film schedule information is available online.