Life in Paradise?
The auditorium of the Cinemaxx movie complex is occupied to the last seat. This surprises me, as it is not a blockbuster that everyone is looking forward to watch on the big screen, but a documentary which has been produced for TV. The writer/director Claudia Dejá works mainly for the German channels ARD, ZDF and the German/French ARTE. The film has been chosen for Filmfest Hamburg’s Section “16:9”.
The camera sweeps over lush hills of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. What a beautiful landscape! The original German title says: „Zuhause in der Wildnis - unser indianisches Leben“ (At Home in the Wilderness - our Life as Red Indians). Will we be transported away from our hectic lives in the city to the tranquil, fairytale-like woods of an Indian community? No, nothing of this sort. Instead, the friendly face of a white woman with long red hair appears. Sanna is picking herbs in her well-tended garden, helped by a cute, little, blond girl, her youngest daughter Mara. The herbs are used for teas, medical purposes and for home-made ointments. Onions, carrots and cabbage are grown as well as berries and apples to be made into jam. Working in the garden takes Sanna at least two hours every day. Well, if you like gardening, this might sound like paradise. But it is not all that Sanna has to attend to. We meet her husband David and their other three children. They are busy loading a pick-up truck with heavy wooden logs. Twenty truck-loads are loaded to get through the long winter and all hands are needed. There are times when heating through the night is necessary to prevent the water pipes from freezing, i.e. when the temperature drops to minus 30°C.
Why has this educated woman (she holds a diploma in business finance) chosen a life in the wilderness? She comes from Hamburg and had a happy and sheltered childhood. At the Völkerkundemuseum (Museum of Ethnology) she watched David carving a 12-meter-high totem sculpture. During this time - between 1994 and 1997 - they fell in love and, together, they visited David’s Reservation near Vancouver, where he was born. In 1997 they married and she followed him to Canada. David Seven Deers belongs to the Skwahla-Stó:lo-Halkomelem clan. Sanna talks of her first encounter with racism in the so-called “tolerant” society. Marriage to an Indian was frowned upon. Her blond hair and her light complexion were eye-catching. She was called names and treated like an out-cast. This is why she decided to dye her hair red. Laughingly she says, “Now I look at least different, more like a witch, which I have been called anyway”. David just shrugs his shoulders and adds in his deep, soothing voice, “I have been used to this kind of treatment since childhood and can deal with it.” There are new laws against racism but it takes time for people to be educated towards more tolerance - not only in Canada. When Sanna tells of her experience with her first pregnancy, it sounds horrific. David was driving her to town when she started her contractions and had to give birth in the car. After arrival at the hospital he was taken away by the police in handcuffs because nobody believed him - the Indian - to be her wedded husband. What a shock for the young woman.
In 2002 David and Sanna moved 600 km to the east of Vancouver settling on an 80-hectare piece of virgin land with only wild animals as their immediate neighbors, like bears, coyotes and even pumas. Their closest neighbor is two km away. Without any help they built their own house completely from wood; a house without running water, no electricity, no washing machine, no computer, and no television. Luckily, the property has a natural underground spring. The shower cubicle is outside, next to a swinging hammock. For any shopping they have to drive 15 km to the next town.
With untamed nature starting on the doorsteps David taught Sanna and the children how to defend themselves against wild animals, or nasty people wandering in the woods. Each child knows how to use a rifle and David keeps up their shooting training. They also carry their own hunting knives at all times.
As the school is too far for driving twice a day, Sanna does home-schooling. To her relief, the children are doing well at the yearly official school examinations. In the evenings, when all have gone to bed, Sanna has time for herself. She writes stories, does extensive research on her laptop - thanks to the recently installed generator. Several of her novels have already been published. Proudly she says, “Now I can also contribute to our household income which is very irregular, and there have been times when it got very tight.” Inspiration comes from her surroundings, from stories told in the Indian community, and from her own experiences. Since living in the wilderness, her awareness has changed and she wants to share this with her readers.
David, who was educated at the Vancouver School of Art, works on a beautiful stone sculpture, an owl, which he carefully polishes to perfection. He has no studio space but works wherever it is convenient, at this moment, it is the kitchen table. As an inquisitive young man he travelled to Europe in 1978. He is still active in the art scene and renowned in western Europe, the USA and Canada for his Indian-influenced works for which he developed his own modern style. During the last years he has published three books, in English as well as in German which he speaks fluently.
The filmmaker Claudia Dejá succeeded in showing the daily life of this family with respect and insight. After watching the very likable family, it feels like having been “visiting paradise”. On the other hand, it is clear that everyone is supporting and helping each other, thriving for harmony. Nothing is taken for granted. A very stimulating and positive outlook!
At the end of the screening David Seven Deers comes up in person, is greeted with enthusiastic applause. He replies with some words in his own language, then answers a few questions in German. He brings greetings from Sanna and the children and is sad that they cannot be with him.