Williams Lake filmmaker Robert Moberg delves into both his and society’s complicated relationship with hunting and wildlife in his new documentary Way of the Hunter.
Premiering at the 2018 Whistler Film Festival Friday, Nov. 30, Moberg wrote and directed the movie in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada, who put their full weight behind it. Filmed against the backdrop of the Great Bear Rainforest, for Moberg making the film was incredibly personal and introspective.
“It’s my personal story about the changing role hunting has taken in my life,” Moberg said, the tagline for his movie describing him as “a hunter who’s traded his gun for a camera.”
Moberg grew up on a small family farm outside of Rocky Mountain House, AB where he first learned to hunt. His father would go out every winter with a World War One-era rifle, which Moberg still owns to this day, and shoot a moose or a grouse to provide food for his family.
For his father it was never about taking trophies or showing strength, it was always about survival. As a young boy and teenager, Moberg would spend many hours in the bush hunting with friends and developed a love for being in nature.
As he grew older and moved to cities like Vancouver and Williams Lake Moberg would often go out hunting with family and friends, as an excuse to go back out into nature. However, he found that it “wasn’t really working” for him anymore and that he had started valuing animals in a different way.
In the documentary, he tells a story about the time he and his friends shot a two-year-old moose calf in a swamp. Moberg said that as they were cleaning the kill the cries of the calf’s mother unnerved him and made him further question why he was taking part in hunting.
“As I went on to make nature documentaries this (feeling) really took hold. I guess I started to see how threatened most species are by habitat destruction and all these other things and I started seeing hunting as one of them I guess,” Moberg explained.
As Moberg left the hunting world he became a sort of anti-hunter and got sucked into the often toxic online discourse around hunting, especially trophy hunting. In the documentary this is portrayed as a dark time for him, getting into debates and arguments with pro-hunters and making personal attacks.
“I just got sort of swallowed up in it, and that’s what the film covers, just this sort of way social media can be really divisive. The hunter versus non-hunter debate is sort of just a microcosm of the toxic way we now seem to communicate with each other,” Moberg said. “In fact, we’re not communicating at all. I guess we could all be accused of being keyboard commandos at some point, we all believe we’re making a point for our political, spiritual or social cause, but it really doesn’t get anyone anywhere.”
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While online reading hunting and anti-hunting posts he read a story about a wilderness guide in the Great Bear Rainforest who had talked a hunter out of hunting grizzly bears. Moberg went on to reach out and meet eco-wilderness guide Mike Willie of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation and came to develop a friendship.
Willie’s story and own relationship with nature make up the backbone of the film as the two friends go out into the wilderness of the rainforest to find a grizzly. While out on the water together, watching whales and visiting Willie’s home, he tells stories of people, hunters and non-hunters, being touched by the majesty and beauty of nature.
“We saw a grizzly bear breathtakingly close and it’s emotionally stirring. When we’re immersed in nature like that, we put our online weapons away and start to see, hear and feel what’s around us, in that moment we’re immersed in the serenity of the world,” he said. “It’s bigger than us, somehow we’re a part of it and we stand in awe as our ears ring in silence. That’s what the film is about, in a nutshell.”
This reverence and love Moberg has for nature is felt throughout the film’s quarter of an hour runtime, none more so than its opening shots of him and Willie encountering a grizzly. Through interacting with the guide and talking to his family, Moberg’s come to believe the best way to communicate about the important issues is in person.
To that effect, he wants to be clear this film does not take a side in the hunting debate. The film is shot from his own perspective and story and portrays his own personal, ever-evolving, relationship with hunting and the natural world.
“Its sort of deeper than just hunting versus non-hunting, it’s more about this divisive world we live in and it’s a way of sort of addressing that. We need to meet in person; you might say things online you’d never say to somebody in person that’s kind of the subtext,” Moberg said.
Coming back to the idea of him being a hunter who’s traded in his gun for a camera, two of his sisters interviewed in the movie echo this sentiment. What their brother does now and what he did then is essentially the same; he tramps through the bush, tracks the animal and shoots it. The only difference is now he comes home with a photograph or a video and not a carcass.
Running at 15 minutes, this film is a thought-provoking, beautiful look at the natural world. Its cinematography and score help illustrate Moberg’s story wonderfully and he said he loved working with the NFB to bring it to life.
“It has been a long process, very rewarding and enjoyable, and to see it finally completed is really satisfying, it’s wonderful. It’s a very personal story and I hope it resonates with people, for a short film I think it has a very emotional impact,” Moberg said.
After touring the film festival circuit in B.C. Moberg said Way of the Hunter will be available online on the NFB’s online film bank. He does not know the exact date of release as of yet, so he advises interested parties to follow his Facebook page for updates.
Moberg said he and his team are also looking at screening the film here in Williams Lake but added that, at the time of this interview, a venue or date have not been selected. Moberg continues to call the lakecity his home with his wife Vanessa Moberg, who helps him on all of his film projects.