Who – Daniel Kooman Unveil Studios
Daniel Kooman is a local filmmaker and a partner of Unveil Studios, an independent film studio finding its roots in Red Deer Alberta. A transplant from over the rockies, Daniel has reversed the trend of British Columbians making an exodus toward an Alberta oil economy, following the stream of creativity running towards our promise land of artistic abundance here on Vancouver Island. We caught up with Daniel at his Black Creek based work space to hear a bit of the story of a man usually on the other side of an interview.
So Daniel, what got you into filmmaking?
When I was in high school a teacher told me, “If there’s one career you should never pursue it’s film making” That sparked the idea. Right away it was about documentaries and human stories. We formed Unveil Studios in 2004 with my two brothers and three other friends. We all wanted to see the world and travel so we started looking for some real stories about real people. We wanted to explore the space between poverty and wealth, what people need and what makes them happy. We went all over the world and asked those questions. In that we met amazing people, aids orphans and widows, people living in pipe villages in India… people from all walks of life. That first trip around the world was the beginning. It made me see that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
Since you’ve been based in the Comox Valley what sorts stories have you been telling?
I’ve really been drawn to working with artists but we’ve done a lot of corporate films as well. Artists understand suffering and passion. They know how to dream and that’s interesting. With corporate projects, whether you twist metal or build houses, there’s always something that’s gotten you to where you are. If you dig deep enough there’s that passion. You walk people through their story until you find it. Questions that prompt them to find what got them to where they are, how hard have they fought for this, what do they really love, what puts them in the zone? Any interview is dead until you hit that passion; It’s not going to be meaningful, because people won’t connect with their story otherwise. Those are the moments you highlight in the final product. Moments of passion, our best abilities are connected to our passion. I believe that one hundred percent… It’s a treasure hunt, when you dig up that gold, then everyone can see it. The audience sees it. It’s exciting to find that.
What has living in the Comox Valley added to you as an artist?
When we first moved here it was like an escape, and I got some ideas for new projects right away. Creativity flourishes when there’s freedom and space. When there’s no strings attached. That has been so great for me creatively. When you tap into your own passion and creativity that helps you tell other peoples stories well. The atmosphere and the inspiration here has been a positive influence for sure. There’s also a plethora of creatives out here, we don’t have to look too far to work together.
How did you find the stories you’ve told so far?
Meeting people and telling them I make films always generates ideas… through relationship has been the best way to find stories. When we first started making films my family had a connection to a guesthouse in Thailand and friends who worked with the “untouchables” in India, we started there.
What attracts you to the struggle in a story?
On our first film trip around the world we saw a lot of it. I was aware of human struggle but not at the level that I found when I saw it for myself. Slums in Nairobi, refugee camps… I just thought this could be me, my life, my suffering but what attracts me to those stories is the hope and the life. I was with a woman who had been widowed because of aids in Kenya, she herself could have died at any moment while we talked, but she had more hope and more joy some how than wealthy people we were interviewing in Europe or North America. It’s interesting that where there’s real struggle hope and life is often more obvious.
What other criteria do you have for a good story?
Looking at our track record it’s not about a happy ending but themes like hope, freedom or redemption, even just possibility or meaning. Those stories typically have suffering along the way, but that makes them interesting. The characters that typically resonate with audiences are the ones who you can see yourself being. The ones whose shoes you can put yourself in. They have real problems, like us. They didn’t have it together but because of some event, some moment, they got to the place they needed to be. When you get out there you realize you have a lot to learn from the people you’re interacting with or interviewing, ultimately your life gets transformed by that. That’s what’s powerful about a character who’s been broken down… when you experience your own story in someone else’s it peels back the layers. When you experience someone’s “real life” whether it’s fiction or not, their faith, some meaning or redemption, those themes are some of the deepest ways people connect with stories.
Something I’ve been exploring is how to get an audience to see the world as the character does. Not so much how I want the audience to see a character’s life but how the character views themselves and the world they live in. That point of view directs shot choices to connect you with a character.
How do you describe passion?
I describe passion as whatever makes your heart beat faster. The things you go through in life can form your passion. Passion has roots in struggle, it means you have something to validate why you’re fighting for it. If I’ve been working hard to get a film happening for years, I’m going to be passionate about seeing it come to life. For one of my first projects someone agreed to invest in it only if I worked for him for six months. It was a pretty tough labour job doing tiling and laying floors. That didn’t seem to have much to do with filmmaking. It was long hours all summer and into the fall but it was about paying into doing our dream to make films. It is empowering if you suffer to do the thing you love – you do better work. Funny enough during that first project we connected with migrant workers doing similar labour work who were barely getting payed at all… my “suffering” has always been trumped by someone else’s whose story I’m telling. It puts things into perspective.
How do you use perspective as a story telling mechanism?
A lot of the work we’ve done has involved comparison or juxtaposition. That perspective is what makes the story powerful. When you show a child whose thrilled with even the chance to go to school and you juxtapose that with someone whose had everything they’d ever want or need and they’re not thankful for it, all of a sudden you have this perspective that’s really powerful. If then a person who has everything is willing to look at that juxtaposition, there is a possibility that the light bulb could come on. Not to manipulate those differences but to put it into perspective and to ask the questions.
You mentioned you’re working on a feature length film?
We’re in pre-production of “She Has a Name”, which is based on a true event out of South East Asia. What’s really exciting about it is that it’s our first feature length narrative film project. It’s a big creative leap from shorter narrative work but it’s a leap we’re ready to take. We’re really excited about the story itself. It’s a story about human trafficking which is something I didn’t know anything about until I went to India, Kenya and Thailand. The real moment for me was when I met a trafficked survivor in Red Deer Alberta, it hit home for me. People are trafficked everywhere. Not just in places where there’s poverty but right here at home. What excites me is that people connect with a powerful story. I really believe people will be inspired to do something about the issue when they see it and that adds another layer.
How do you see the role of contemporary entertainment in our culture?
I don’t think I’m a minority when I say stories that resonate with me are stories with meaning. A comedy can be just as meaningful as a drama. It doesn’t have to be painful and depressing. The power of the industry is how many people you can access. Your audience can be massive. I value meaningful influence as opposed to negative influence. If you had a million people listening to the next thing you were about to say, what would you tell them? What drives us at Unveil Studios is that we can have a positive influence. False power is control and manipulation. Our film She Has a Name is about that abuse of power. The idea that “I can use this person to get power or feel powerful.” But we need integrity, that’s where freedom comes from. That’s positive power. Even if you’ve been abused and controlled your whole life, in a split second love can lift all that. Love is incredibly powerful. Love rises above. It’s the reason to suffer or have passion. It’s the reason to tell a good story. The entertainment industry is the clergy of our time, that’s where people are going and looking for meaning. Art and storytelling defines culture, in that sense our culture is being shaped by the entertainment and media industry.
CVC // Out of the Blue
Marla Limousin and her husband George are the fermentation alchemists conjuring up the innovative wines coming out of the Blue Moon Winery just north of Courtenay. Marla’s palpable creative energy was as present in her hospitality as much as it was in the bottle of ‘Harvest Moon’ that was enjoyed shortly after this interview.
CVC: What made you want to start making wine in the Comox Valley?
Marla: We were thinking about how to add value to our organic blueberry farm. My husband had always made fruit wines with his family so we tried making a couple of bottles. George made a blueberry wine and a blueberry/blackberry port… we gave some away to friends to try, they said we should sell it… we also did an apple wine. I thought George was crazy but that first apple wine turned out to be a double gold medal winner.
CVC: That was a good first round.
Marla: We used to live in the arctic. In Inuit society there’s no failure. It is just considered another learning thing… we weren’t afraid of anything. We both thought if it doesn’t work, so what? We threw the doors open in July 2009. Darkside (Chocolates in Cumberland) had a chocolate show and they asked us to pour wine. People loved what we served. We sold out of everything we had by December that year. Back then we had three, kinds now we have eleven with two carbonated ciders going to bottle as we speak.
CVC: It sounds like you had some strong encouragement right from the beginning.
Marla: Yes we did… we have great growers and producers around here. Back then it was just Beaufort (Winery) and us. Now we have Coastal Black (winery), 40 knot (winery) and Shelter Point (distillery). All of a sudden we have this great agro tourism destination. We’re on the map. Recently there was a big article in a San Francisco publication about the Comox Valley; we’ve seen a real increase of out of town visitors this year. People know we’re all here. We’re all thinking about how to collaborate, market together and create spin off business.
CVC: What makes a great wine?
Marla: Love. (she laughs) You have to have a passionate wine maker. You have to have the magic and the science. Sometimes people think winemakers use the dregs to make wine but number one fruit makes number one wines. We use excellent fruit and we have great terroir around here. The cold from the glacier, the soil we have here, the quality of the air… That matters. (Terroir is the characteristics of climate, geology and geography expressed in agriculture)
CVC: What aspect of the farm do you love the most?
I love mentoring. When I moved here the farming community of this valley was so generous to me so I try to give back. When young people come onto the farm I like to share what we’ve been learning. We like to bring other people into their dreams if we can. Dreams take risk but risk can seem huge, having an entrepreneurial mind means you have to be flexible. Recently that’s carbonated cider… You have to try things. I don’t think you do things you really love without risk. Creativity sells but it’s risky. You have to experiment, sometimes that means you pour it down the drain, but you move on. I think if more people lived with innovation and creativity there would be a lot more happy people. People are too afraid to make mistakes but that’s what innovation and creativity requires. Fear keeps us from achievement.
CVC: What’s better, the product or the process?
Marla: Process. I love the gathering. George has a crate of pears out there; if I stole a hundred of them to experiment with he’d never notice. I love to try things; I love to twist it up.
CVC: What kind of obstacles have you had to overcome?
Marla: Your generation is great; they’ll try anything. You’re not worried if it’s like a Shiraz or if it’s like a Merlot. My generation is all stuck in that… There’s a perception that fruit wine is something you get from grandpa’s basement and it gets you really hung over but we’re changing that. We want to give people a new experience. In the end everyone seems to leave with a bottle. If you just get people to taste it… that’s why were out at all the festivals and our tastings are complimentary.
CVC: Where does your sense of excellence come from?
Marla: We’ve been married twenty years and worked together for fourteen. George is a perfectionist. He’s an engineer with Swiss parents. He’s solid. I always want to experiment and try new things. I get these ideas, I bring them to George and he lets it settle and then peculate. It’s a good balance.
CVC: How do you stay inspired?
Marla: We stay inspired by surrounding ourselves with young people. That keeps us young and keeps us connected. We’re inspired by this beautiful place, by what the Comox Valley is becoming. We’re doing what we want to do and not being inhibited. In the high arctic there was no bs. We find that here too and that keeps us inspired.
CVC: What’s your favorite wine right now?
Marla: Harvest Moon. It’s so versatile. We love apples right now. There’s like nine varieties of apples in that bottle. George used brown sugar to give it that caramel overtone; we had it fortified by Frog Distillery on Hornby Island to bring in the brandy part of it. You can drink it over ice, room temperature or warm it up when you’ve just come in from skiing.
CVC: How do you define success?
Marla: Success is when a person walks through our door and they brought their friends… Success is when someone takes a sip and then excitedly say “that’s not what I expected”. When we shake someone up, who thought it was going to be a certain way and its better, that’s success. When people have emailed us and said thanks for being here, you make me proud of my valley… that’s success.
Discovery / Darcy Lange
With a spirit of excellence and determination Darcy Lange has overcome serious illness and found legendary status in the North American motocross scene. At 32 Darcy’s already lived a lifetime of experience. It was a pleasure to sit down for a beer with him and his family and be inspired.
CVC: So you were born and raised here in the valley?
Darcy: I was born in Comox and I lived here all my life until we started travelling. I lived in Texas for about a year… I was living in California, about an hour and a half east of LA, closer to the end of my career.
CVC: How did your career get started?
Darcy: From a young age I always had a bike. My dad had me on an old Yamaha PW50. Dad was a faller by trade, working in and out of camp. I could only ride it when he was home until I could handle myself. When our house got broken into and my bike got stolen, insurance covered a new upgrade. My parents were going through Nanaimo shortly after and they saw a big sign that said “motocross”. The next weekend we checked it out. I don’t think we’ve really missed a race since that day. That was 1994. I started racing on 80cc’s. By 98’ I moved up to professional. I won a bunch of provincial races and then got fifth in Canada that first year. I raced with Richmond Motorsports out of Nanaimo; they really helped us out. I spent pretty much my whole career racing for them.
CVC: Did they take you down to the states?
Darcy: Rob Goth, who was the accessories manager, brought the owner of Richmond out to a race that I won. That hooked them. they ended up paying for us to get into arena cross down in the U.S. There were four main events, two per night. I ended up winning that first or second event. I did a lot of arena cross after that, but still came back and forth to Canada to do outdoor races (motocross). There are three different styles. Arena cross is in hockey arenas. Super cross happens in baseball stadiums. Really tight, fast, lots of corners and jumps. The outdoor stuff is what you call motocross. More wide open, big turns, but mostly staying on the ground.
CVC: What were the physical demands like?
Darcy: When you’re on the road for a month straight the travel starts to wear on you and we had a lot of training… a lot of people think you just get on the bike and turn the throttle, but statistics showed it’s the second most physically demanding sport next to professional soccer. It’s like anything, the more you put into it the better you do.
CVC: Did you stay connected to the Comox Valley during your moto career?
Darcy: I lived in a few different places racing all over Canada and the States as well as over seas… nothing compares to the valley. Everywhere we went, different cultures, different lifestyles, it was great but I always couldn’t wait to get back here. The valley is such a great place to be. The lakes, the ocean, great fishing, great golf and Mount Washington… there’s so much right here, I don’t get how you’d want to be anywhere else. Even with all the travelling I never wanted to live anywhere but here.
CVC: Did that play into your decision to get out of competition?
Darcy: There was a few things that came into play. The last year I did it was 2007, I almost won the super cross championship that year. I was down in the states and my neck started to swell up, I looked like a deer in the rut. We had a two-week break from racing so I flew home to get it checked out. It was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I guess if you’re going to get cancer that’s the one you want to get (he laughs). I had a lot of time off and we had bought a wakeboarding boat so we spent a lot of time on the lake. After three or four months I started to get pretty tired and my hair was falling out… After six months the cancer cleared, the doctors were telling me I could get back into it. Some changes were happening with teams and salaries at that time and I just started to think I don’t need this anymore; I’d had a good run. It was nice to be home, hang out with my brother, fish and hunt. Still, my friends were trying to convince me to go back, and I almost did. Then a really good friend of mine got hurt badly. Paralyzed from racing. For me that was more the final straw.
CVC: Does your sense for competition come into other parts of your life?
Darcy: Everything I do I want to do to my best. Motocross came down to me. If I was going to do well I had to make it happen. Somebody else wasn’t going to make it happen for me. Often people need someone else around to make sure they’re doing a good job, that’s not me. Once you get your first win that’s all you want but you have to be self-motivated. When the gate drops, that’s all you’re thinking about.
CVC: Having had success from an international motocross career, you seem to have stayed pretty grounded.
Darcy: Signing autographs and meeting new people all the time was just part of the deal. I guess I’m thankful to have had a good chance at doing something I loved, I did it and I had fun. If you came up to me right before a race I might not have been too polite, but after races and in between… I’m just a regular person.
CVC: What does life look like now?
Darcy: We went halfers on a hundred acres with my parents. My brother lives at the back section of the property, so we’re all right here. I work with my wife’s father and his brother just down the road. I couldn’t ask for better people to work for and we take August off and two weeks at Christmas…. We’re just really happy here.