Knowlton filmmaker Laura Rietveld has completed her second documentary feature film entitled La famille de la forêt. The film is about a French-speaking family from Belgium living in the Gaspé who live as close to nature and as self-sufficiently as possible. Rietveld worked on La famille de la forêt for seven years, starting in 2015, and now she is preparing to open the Gaspé Film Festival: Vues Sur Mer on March 31. The film will be screened to the public in select theatres in Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec City, and Rimouski starting April 8. Describing the film as “a gentle poetic look at nature and family,” Rietveld hopes that it inspires people to find beauty and hope in what surrounds them.
Rietveld explained that La famille de la forêt came from her experience working on her first documentary film Okpik’s Dream about an Inuit man name Harry Okpik who experiences a break in his relationship to nature and prepares for the Ivakkak dog sled race in Canada. The film went on to be screened at the Innsbruck International Nature Festival in Austria where Rietveld recognized a need for nature films.
“I sat there and I watched the nature films of that year and I noticed that most of the films fell into one of two categories; either we’re doomed, talking head documentaries about a particular subject in nature that isn’t very hopeful, or traditional nature documentaries with no humans,” said Rietveld. “There are beautiful landscapes, animals, insects, but no humans, and so I felt there was a real need for hope and beauty, and to remind us that we are a part of nature and that we aren’t separate from it. That’s where the seed of this desire came from.”
Having met Gérard Mathar, Catherine Jacob, and their three sons, the subjects of La famille de la forêt, in the Gaspé not long before she went to Austria, Rietveld’s instincts told her that a film needed to be made.
“They live as self-sufficiently as a modern family can and as close to nature as a modern family can. They are not off the grid, they use electricity, but they live close to nature really as any modern family can. That was the story I was hoping to tell,” said Rietveld. “It’s taken seven years to get to this point. It’s a very gentle, poetic, look at nature and family. Those kinds of films have a hard time finding funding, all documentaries do; it’s quiet, gentle, beautiful, films that have their challenges getting made and being financed.”
Rietveld and the family also took their time to get to know one another before making the film.
“I went to the Gaspé, they met my family, my partner and our son, on our first trip travelling around there. We met them and they watched Okpik’s Dream and they thought about it. It’s no small feat to be a subject of a documentary,” mentioned Rietveld. “They have a small business, they forge the forest. They forge, sustainably, from the forest mushrooms, flowers, juniper berries, and they sell it to some of the top chefs in Quebec and Ontario. They’ve had media attention, but they never participated in a documentary.”
Rietveld said that she didn’t receive funding until 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and believes the pandemic, combined with climate crisis, sparked more mainstream interest around her film.
“With the escalating climate crisis and then Covid, a family who loves nature and makes bread became more relevant on a wide scale. We found funding I think because the world had shifted from when I first started trying to push this film forward into the world; it became more mainstream,” she said.
Being a regional story, and one that doesn’t normally find itself on theatre screens, Rietveld hopes La famille de la forêt will serve as a source of inspiration.
“It became more aspirational for people. People are looking for ways to cope during Covid and unfortunately it isn’t over,” noted Rietveld. “It’s an inspiring story for those who are interested in self-sufficiency with everything that this family has been able to accomplish. It’s exciting to see something that was an underdog, be of interest. I think that the film has an important message and that feels rewarding that there is interest in that message potentially.”
She also hopes that it serves as a reminder of the good that surrounds people.
“I hope that people take their own message from it. Filmmakers hold up a mirror and each of us sees something different,” said Rietveld. “I hope that it offers a reminder of the beauty in the world, especially right now with Covid, the climate crisis, and the war in Ukraine. I hope it offers an 85-minute antidote to the stress that everyone is under.”
Describing filmmaking as a “collective art form,” Rietveld thanked the community for their support throughout her process.
“Our neighbors treat us like family and as I’ve traveled they have taken care of our pets for us. Filmmaking is a collective art form and that’s one of the best things about it, but
it also takes a community to make a film and I felt supported here in Knowlton personally and I really value that,” she emphasized.
A special screening of La famille de la forêt with English subtitles and a Q&A with Rietveld with will be held on Sunday, April 17 in the afternoon, time to be announced, in Sherbrooke at La Maison du Cinéma. Updates for the film can be found at https://www.facebook.com/lafamilledelaforet/.