Nick Versteeg’s latest production, A Just Society, ranks as one of the most challenging of his 39-year career.
Not only was the documentary a departure from what Versteeg’s DV Media has done in the past, the subject matter was intense and disturbing.
“It was not one of my uplifting productions,” conceded Versteeg as he introduced A Just Society to more than 600 people at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on March 28.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” he explained of the attempt to expose the harsh realities of drug abuse and homelessness in the Cowichan Valley.
Versteeg’s company produced the acclaimed Once Upon A Day, a six-minute video that showcases the beauty of the Cowichan Valley and has been viewed on Youtube and Vimeo by over 250,000 people.
From the opening scenes it was clear A Just Society would be a stark contrast to Once Upon A Day.
Verteeg’s crew conducted 32 interviews, many of them with drug addicts and homeless people living in the Cowichan Valley.
“Halfway in we knew we had a story,” Versteeg said of what turned out to be a challenging project for many reasons.
“We applied for several grants but none of them came through. The RCMP wouldn’t let us go with them for legal reasons.”
But with the financial help of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Versteeg soldiered on and managed to get addicts, recovering alcoholics and others to open up about their lives.
Much of the content was unflattering for Duncan and area and demonstrated that there are critical issues that need to be dealt with.
“I’ve never seen anything like Duncan,” one addict said. “Everyone’s grinding the same scams, chasing the same dollars, stabbing each other in the back.
“Nobody trusts anybody,” he said, as he prepared to shoot up in front of the camera.
The statistics present a troubling picture of how pervasive drug abuse is in Canada and how damaging the use of opioids is in the country. British Columbia is among the most dangerous provinces and the Cowichan Valley’s overdose deaths are rising.
Almost 1,500 people died of drug overdoses in B.C. in 2018, including 234 on Vancouver Island. The Cowichan Valley recorded 31 overdose deaths last year.
At the conclusion of the video, Versteeg moderated a question and answer session involving a panel of six people close to the problems of drug addiction, poverty and homelessness and invited questions from the audience.
Debbie Black of Cowichan Women Against Violence Society suggested vulnerable people need support from the community including providing some of the essential requirements of a happy life.
“They need to know there is someone who cares if they live or die,” Black said.
Cindy Lise of Our Cowichan Communities Health Network says homeless people are particularly vulnerable.
“Housing has reached a crisis point. We don’t have enough homes to meet the needs of people in our community,” Lise said.
“Going back to that tent does not help your healing in any way.”
Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycling and a community activist who has led a campaign to clean up the neighbourhood, drew applause from the audience when he said it was time to get tougher with panhandlers.
“Panhandlers do well in Duncan, I’ve heard. They can make $150 to $500 a day. The word is we’re an easy touch,” Arnold said.
“You’ve got to stop giving money to panhandlers and give money to the Food Bank and others.”
The premiere of A Just Society raised funds for Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, the organization that developed the women’s shelter in late December.
St. Andrew’s Church presented a cheque for $10,000 to CWAVS at the conclusion of the evening.