Documentary filmmaker Krista Loughton’s journey to heal four of Victoria’s most vulnerable residents was a twist of fate.
Her project, Us and Them, ended up healing her own emotional wounds and evolved into a deep personal journey revealing the root causes of addiction.
Loughton was inspired to make a film about healing using the First Nations Medicine Wheel traditions after living in the same building as a First Nations counselling school in Vancouver.
“I could always smell sage in the hallways,” says Loughton, who followed her nose, and her insatiable thirst for spiritual learning, to check it out. There she found a 60-year-old First Nations woman who took her under her wing and taught her how to use the medicine wheel and gave her a copy of the book The Sacred Tree: Reflections on Native American Spirituality by Judie Bopp, created by Native American inter-tribal group, the Four Worlds Development Project.
Years later, Loughton moved to Victoria where she works as a wedding videographer (publikproductions.com) and part-time at film collective CineVic.
After reading a newspaper article about Rev. Allen Tysick (former executive director of Our Place), she was inspired to make contact with Tysick about teaching the medicine wheel to the homeless shelter’s clients.
Disappointed by the less-than-enthusiastic response, she put her classes on hold and decided to just hang out, spending time getting to know the community and how the shelter works.
“You need to spend time there to learn what’s normal and what’s not,” says Loughton. “I literally spent two years just sitting and hanging out. Sometimes I brought a camera, and sometimes I didn’t.”
The camera added another level of complexity to her mission, instead of teaching she was there to gather people’s stories.
“You have to be careful,” says Loughton. “I felt a bit like a poacher, but I wanted to gather truthful stories about these people’s lives and the camera is part of that.”
In that time, Loughton produced two short films Our Hero (2007) and The New Our Place (2008), featuring Tysick and Our Place — both won awards at the Victoria Film Festival.
It was at the screening of The New Our Place that Loughton met David Malysheff of Gamut Productions, who later came on board as director of photography.
The two went to work shooting the film with four friends, all addicts, Loughton made at Our Place, Dawnellda Gauthier, Stan Hunter, Karen Montgrand and Eddie Golko, who all wanted to learn to balance themselves physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally using the teachings of the medicine wheel.
“[Gauthier] was probably the worst case in the centre,” says Loughton. “She was four-foot-seven, 90 pounds and was barred from the shelters at night. She spent the nights walking the streets, afraid of being beaten or robbed … She was never on time, but worth the wait. We wouldn’t have our movie if her voice wasn’t in it. She’s strong and amazing.”
Montgrand is a Metis woman who panhandles on Blanshard Street outside of the movie theatres. “She’s our comic relief,” says Loughton. “Truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
Loughton and Golko literally ran into each other at Our Place. “He recited a poem to me … I was drawn to him. He spent a third of his adult life behind bars where he learned about Buddhism from a nun who taught him about meditation. He brings a lot of spiritual wisdom to the film.”
And Hunter was the skeptic.
“He always said I was part of the homeless industry … and he kept it up to the very end,” she says with a pause.
Hunter passed away from pancreatic cancer during filming in November 2009.
“After he passed, things changed for me,” says Loughton. “I realized that if the rest didn’t quit using that they were going to die, too.”
Loughton sought help from Dr. Gabor Maté, a Vancouver physician and author specializing in addictions. What Maté told her about trauma and early childhood brain development struck a chord with Loughton, who had been dealing with depression her whole adult life.
“Certain brain circuitry doesn’t develop properly unless yo get the care you need from a loving caregiver,” says Loughton, whose parents divorced when she was three.
“I thought I was going there to interview him, but he ended up interviewing me,” says Loughton. “The next thing you know, I’m blubbering away about my childhood trauma. I realized that if I want to fix them, I needed to fix myself.”
Loughton then took a two-year hiatus from the film, choosing to instead focus her efforts on self-healing.
“I wasn’t ready to put this all out to the world,” she says. “I had a lot of fear around being honest and not being afraid to tell the truth about my own emotional struggles, in a culture that doesn’t necessarily respect you for that.”
Feeling ready to talk about her adventure, she picked the film up again this past fall.
Us and Them has been almost 10 years in the making, and now that it’s reached the post-production phase, Loughton needs Victoria’s help to raise the $25,000 required to cover the costs of hiring an editor, composer, sound mixer, colour timer, special effects editor, graphic designer and promotion and marketing support.
She’s turning to her community to help tell its own story through crowdfunding website indiegogo.com/usandthem.
For every donation of $10 or more made to the campaign, Lougton will give a warm item of clothing to a member of Victoria’s homeless population. Donations of $1,000 will buy associate producer credits, tickets to the world premiere and a thank you in the finished film’s credits.
So far, Loughton has raised more than $3,000 with 20 days left in the campaign.
If you have any clothing items, blankets, or sleeping bags that you can donate, please email email@example.com or call 250-889-1232.