Northern British Columbia.
Gitxsan indigenous businessman-turned-outlaw Simon Gunanoot, labelled a “terrible savage” for allegedly killing two white men two years ago, is in hiding during a brutally cold winter. Meanwhile, in Hazelton, grubstaker Seamus Campbell and his shotgun-toting thug come to the Two Mile Saloon to collect a debt from failed prospector Danny Kelly.
In desperation, Kelly impulsively decides to head deep into the frozen wilds of the Skeena Mountains in pursuit of Gunanoot and the $1,000 bounty on his head.
But Kelly soon realizes he’s in over his head.
The hunter has become the hunted.
This is the premise for Campbell River filmmaker Damien Gillis’ new short film, Shadow Trap, which is screening as part of the Campbell River Film Festival Feb. 25.
Gunanoot is now a legend who became the focus of the longest manhunt in Canadian history: 13 years (1906 to 1919).
Shadow Trap premiered at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival last fall and will launch on Crave TV in April, but Gillis says he is happy to be bringing it to Campbell River as part of the local film festival.
“Simon’s story is as relevant today as it was century ago,” Gillis says. “It raises issues of justice for Indigenous people within a colonial legal system and competing values around resource development – much as we are seeing today in Wet’suwet’en territory, just south of Simon’s Gitxsan nation.”
Shot on location in the historically-preserved gold rush town of Barkerville, B.C. – in minus 30-40 Celsius temperatures – Shadow Trap employs authentic storytelling, from a Klondike-style dogsled the filmmakers built from scratch to ensuring every prop and costume reflected the essence and reality of the period.
To add to the authenticity of the film, the film team collected an “impressive team of Indigenous and settler filmmakers committed bringing Simon’s story to life,” Gillis says, including working with Gunanoot’s closest living descendants, including grandson Harvey Gunanoot and great grandson Gilbert Johnson, who spent eight winters trapping with Simon’s son David.
“It is a great honour and responsibility to be entrusted with this story by Simon’s descendants,” Gillis says. “I share this responsibility with my Gitxsan and Tahltan colleagues on the project and we are working closely with Simon’s grandchildren and great grandson to portray Simon and his legacy with honesty and integrity.”
Shadow Trap, however, is only the first part of the Simon Gunanoot story Gillis and the team will produce. In fact, Shadow Trap is the demo for a six-part series aimed at hitting a streaming and broadcast platforms near you in the future, Gillis says.
Tickets for the night are only $12 can be purchased online at tidemarktheatre.com or by stopping in at the box office Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m.