The world’s happiest man is from Fort Smith. Richard Van Camp is knee-deep in creative work, muscling as many as three more of his graphic novels into live action films.
Blanket of Butterflies, The Blue Raven and Three Feathers are all set in Fort Smith and Van Camp wants to film them in the NWT border town as early as this coming spring with local filmmaker Carla Ulrich directing.
Three Feathers is inspired by the true story of three young men caught breaking into houses, Van Camp’s family home among them. In reality, they were sentenced to two years each in prison in the south, but the story imagines that they were instead sent to spend nine months on the land.
“We’re so good at sending people down south for two years every single time,” Van Camp said from his home in Edmonton. “What if we put them on the land with qualified instructors and elders, and what if we trusted them with responsibility; helped them learn their language and their culture, what it means to be a man, a provider and a young warrior today, a protector? The rest of the story seemed very easy.”
The timeline for the Three Feathers shoot has already had to move back (it was first intended to shoot in October) but Van Camp sounded optimistic that cameras will roll in March and again next September. The twin shoots are needed to capture the progression of seasons during the time the boys are on the land in a film of just 40 minutes.
The “twins” are actually sextuplets since the crew will be shooting each scene in Bush Cree, English and South Slavey.
Three Feathers the graphic novel has already been translated into Bush Cree and will soon be available in Dene and South Slavey, according to the author.
“We raised quite a bit of money for the shoot,” Van Camp said. “We have an angel investor, Anne Lepine, who will be an associate producer. We’re going to need the whole community to come out for different scenes. For example, when the three young men come into the boat launch in the first scene. We need people at the courthouse, (and) around different shots, when the ambulance goes to pick up Gabe, we need the whole community to show up and be outraged,” Van Camp said. “It’s going to be huge. You’re talking to the world’s happiest man. I’m just over the moon.”
A love letter to the world
Van Camp has also written a third graphic novel set in Smith, Spirit, which is about respect for all life. Fort Simpson’s Cathy Shea is illustrating it.
Hickey Gone Wrong, meanwhile, which was filmed in Fort Smith in August and premiered there in September, was recently accepted into the Stuttgart Film Festival in January, where it will be screened with German subtitles.
Last but not least, Blanket of Butterflies, the second graphic novel set in Smith, crafts a legendary backstory for the fabled suit of samurai armour at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre. Van Camp has not secured a film deal for that title yet, but is confident the story, which revolves around the samurai’s sword being lost in a card game and a mysterious man named Shinobu appearing to claim it, has the legs to get there.
“It’s great, it’s beautiful,” he said. “I can show this (story) to anyone in the world and they’re going to fall in love with Northern culture. I know this is truly my first international story.”