The Wilderness take the lead in film alum's thesis documentary

Bobbi Shewchuk releases director's cut in time for band's fifth anniversary

Bobbi Shewchuk's documentary focuses on The Wilderness.

Kingston’s music scene is legendary in its own right, but it’s also been known to inspire other artists’ work.

On Jan. 22, Bobbi Shewchuk (ArtSci ’19) released a director’s cut version of her 2019 Queen’s film and media thesis. Her focus for the film: The Wilderness.

“When I first came to Queen’s […] I realized there was a really cool music culture here and there was always opportunity to go see live bands […] I always really appreciated that about Kingston,” Shewchuk said in an interview with The Journal.

When it came time to choose her thesis topic, Shewchuk reached out to four bands who all had their start in Kingston: The Wilderness, Kasador, Paper Ladies, and Wild Rivers. Her plan was to film all of them and find out how they grew and navigated the music scene in Kingston.

The Wilderness was the only band she didn’t know personally when she started, but she felt that she could show a more complete story by following them through their 2018 fall and winter residency at The Brooklyn, a local bar.

Every week, there was more content for her to shoot. Then, in January of 2019, she joined the band on tour for about two weeks. Shewchuk says there was hardly a single moment during their time on the road that she wasn’t filming.

The documentary shows the members of The Wilderness at home working on their music, prepping for concerts, loading and unloading their equipment, fighting with each other, and joking around.

“These boys just have so much character and love and compassion. It’s impossible for that not to translate to the screen and that’s a lot of the feedback that I got. You really fall in love with who they are as people,” Shewchuk said. “To see them through their trials and tribulations, it opens your heart to them, and I think a lot of people experienced that through watching.”

In the beginning of the documentary, Shewchuk shows the men prepping for a grant application in February of 2019. They record, then re-record and obsess over the quality of the music they’re submitting. Through technical difficulties, they lose some of the tracks and have to start over.

Shewchuk, a fly on the wall during this process, displays the band members getting heated as the deadline gets closer and tensions rise. They yell at each other for a moment, but in a short scene caught by Bobbi through a cracked balcony door, they apologize and reinforce the notion that they’re all on the same team.

“The grant situation was never supposed to be filmed. It was never supposed to be the point of the film, but it ended up being everything.”

At the end of the doc, Shewchuk informs the viewer through on-screen text that the band didn’t score high enough to get the grant. Needing to earn an 88 per cent from the grant committee, they scored 84.8 per cent.

This ending packs a punch. Shewchuk spends 30 minutes showing us what the band is like when they’re on and off stage. She shows us their passion, friendship, love of their craft, and dedication. It’s an upsetting ending because, by this point, you’re really rooting for them to succeed.

But all of this happened back in March of 2019. Nearly a year later, on Jan. 26, 2020, The Wilderness celebrated their five-year anniversary as a band. Shewchuk released a director’s cut version of her thesis film—cutting out 15 minutes for clarity—and part of it was shown at the anniversary concert at Blu Martini.

Shewchuk said this project came at a time in her life when she was in need of a change and was growing tired of the party culture on campus.

“I was dealing with some issues and [I wasn’t] really happy being back in university,” the director explained. “It was really not good for me anymore and I was feeling the effects of that and I wanted to pull back.”

It’s ironic that in order to pull away from one partying lifestyle, the best thing for Shewchuk was going out every single Friday with the band.

“There was a way to go out and drink and be with people and have fun while actually making meaningful relationships. […] To me, everything I was doing that year had a point and a purpose. It was something I had never really felt before. It was amazing to have this new group of friends.”

Shewchuk credits the people she met throughout her filming experience with helping her get through a tough year.

“I don’t know if I would have made it through fourth year. I just honestly was at that point where I was feeling so low that I needed something to pick me up, and that’s what they are to me.”

Releasing her director’s cut, Shewchuk says she still doesn’t think it’s perfect.

“I love what it gave me and I’m able to stand back and appreciate it for that.”


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