Her death rocked the small community of Hornby Island in November 2009, and now filmmaker Hollis McGowan-Wickham is seeking to honour the memory of Tempest Grace Gale in a full-length documentary film.
Gale’s death is considered the Island’s only homicide, and continues to be a cold case
Calling All People: The Story of TemPeSt Grace Gale (sic) is in the post-production stage, and McGowan-Wickham has teamed up with editor Sonya Chwyl to complete the final story of the project.
The idea to share the life and story of Gale has been on McGowan-Wickham’s mind for years. The academic-turned-filmmaker has strong roots in Hornby and connected with Gale during the last few years of her life.
After completing her master’s degree at Concordia University, McGowan-Wickham returned to the West Coast for a career in music journalism. But the idea of a documentary about Gale was always on her mind.
She told a friend about the idea who encouraged her to pursue it, and following a few roadblocks, talked to Gale’s parents who were “overjoyed” at the idea.
“I spent a Christmas with her parents and it quickly became a passion project and it’s very close to my heart. To this day she’s still so much on everyone’s hearts. She was such a spark and was such an incredible force.”
• • •
Gale’s body was found in the water near the boat where she lived. Comox Valley RCMP brought a person of interest into custody for questioning who was released 24 hours later.
McGowan-Wickham was in university in Montreal and had recently returned from Hornby (where she spent the summer) when she heard the news about Gale’s death.
“It was also the nature of her death and knowing what that meant for my community of Hornby … it created profound change and I knew that something is never going to be the same again. I came back the following summer and you could still feel it.”
Gale, who was a musician, poet, spoken word artist and was involved in performance art, was 25-years-old at the time of her death. She was deeply embedded with the arts community on the Island, but also throughout the province and the country. McGowan-Wickham says she understands the balance between creating a story “about a beautiful, inspiring person, but also knowing that she was murdered. There is a fine line there, and I don’t want to make it sensational. It is a cold case, and I had to think a lot about how I was going to deal with that, because (during the interview process), it was quickly becoming the elephant in the room.”
Gale didn’t shy away from death, notes McGowan-Wickham, as she learned by reading her poetry and music, which Gale’s parents gave her full access to, including books and notes.
Described as a firm believer in the afterlife, Gale was a spiritual person who respected death and understood that everything comes at its rightful time and place.
“I worked with that very carefully. You can’t talk about her or her story without talking about her death. (The film) is a true-crime documentary, but it’s not a murder-mystery.”
She made the decision not to interview police as part of the film.
“I do deal with the murder, but it’s more about how the community experienced it and the ripple effects.”
• • •
Being an academic but working as a journalist, McGowan-Wickham used her skills to frame the project but says every stage of the filmmaking process was “putting one foot in front of the other.”
She is an avid fan of documentary films, watching between five to seven a week. She was well-versed in research and used the internet along with friends and family who were filmmakers to draw upon their knowledge to understand the filmmaking process. With experience interviewing hundreds of musicians, she knew her interview skills were strong but did more research on how to conduct interviews on-camera.
She returned to Hornby and lived for a year reading Gale’s poems, letters, books and listening to music. She decided to launch an initial crowdsourcing campaign in order to fund the film and eventually was able to hire a cinematographer.
“I was a brand new director – I had no idea what I was doing. I pushed through the brick wall and made it through production; it’s been a journey. It’s been a challenge and it’s taken a while because there have been big chunks of time where I haven’t been able to work on it because I have to work my regular job in order to pay my bills.”
McGowan-Wickham interviewed 21 people for the film, with most of them on Hornby. As Gale was a multifaceted artist, interviews ranged from a variety of people including musicians such as Canadian guitarist Big Dave McLean and producer Rita Chiarelli. She also travelled to Wells and Victoria, with the goal of wanting to continue to spread and honour Gale’s spirit and perspective on life.
She says Gale truly believed in the power of vulnerably and being one’s true self, and that she had a unique ability to disarm people.
“Her vulnerability was her strength. There is a sadness there because it still is a cold case – murder – and it’s changed her parent’s lives forever. I really want people to watch the film and feel inspired so that people can leave the film believing they can be the most authentic self they can be. It’s hard because I don’t want to be speaking for (Gale) because she said it so well in her poetry and her songs.”
With more than 20 hours of footage to be edited, a second crowdsourcing campaign is underway for the final stages of the film. McGowan-Wickham is also aiming to hire an animator to assist with a few scenes in the film and hopes to have the project completed by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
For more information about the project or the crowdsourcing campaign, visit https://bit.ly/35lAVHt.
For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.