With Nathan Drillot & Jeff Petry, The Filmmakers Behind ‘Salazar’

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by Grady Mitchell | The films of Vancouver duo Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry, who work together under the name Salazar, are vibrant and vital. Their narrative stories often centre on youth – the immediacy and uncertainty of feeling inherent to young people provides a vehicle for the excitement and wonder the filmmakers hope to inspire. There’s an unrestrained, almost tribal quality to some of their narrative work, alongside a multitude of haunting images. One music video follows a willowy dancer as she prances in empty hallways and across black, wind-scoured beaches. Their short film Silver Creek (above), a promo to raise awareness about bullying, follows the joyful parade of a group of outcasts whose reveries are ultimately, tragically shattered by a gang of thugs.

While the trademark of their narrative films is tumbling, blood-coursing velocity, Salazar’s documentary work takes a slower pace and a more contemplative approach. Whether they’re telling the story of 20-year-old ?sunaarashi, Japan’s first Middle Eastern sumo wrestler (below), a profile of Theo Jansen, an eccentric designer who builds wind-powered sculptures (bottom), or an intimate look at worldwide stars like Tegan and Sara (for which Jeff and Nathan received a Grammy nomination), they treat subjects with dignity and respect. A sense of admiration for the people in front of their cameras underpins every story. It’s more important to celebrate them for their humanity, Jeff says, than their accomplishments alone.

Often they discover their characters from brief coverage in more traditional media: a few columns of newsprint devoted to a quirky local or a quick colour segment on the nightly news. It was a short spot on CTV that introduced them to the subject of their current project, Robert Gagno. Once the two find a story like Robert’s, one that requires more than a cursory news spot or a few paragraphs of text to grasp its nuance and depth, they get to work.

For Robert’s story, that work involves a lot of arcade games. He’s a young Autistic man from Burnaby and a pinball wizard. Now ranked among the world’s top ten players, he spends around 20 weeks a year travelling and competing internationally. His family has rallied around his passion; his dad’s garage is crammed with broken down machines that the two are repairing, and his mom has become the number one female player in Canada. Some say journalistic objectivity is impossible, and in this instance it’s true. Via Robert’s coaching, Nathan’s now gotten pretty handy at World Cup ’94.

The most challenging part of their documentary work, Jeff says, is keeping themselves out of it. Once they’ve gathered the raw footage they have to reconcile their preconceived vision with the reality of the story and its characters. “We spend all this time researching them and romanticizing what the possibilities of telling their story can be,” he says. “So we’re actually inventing them, in a sense, or these ideas of them. Then we go to film it and it’s different, because it’s real life. We get into this process of stripping ourselves out of it.” Nathan sees the people in their videos more as collaborators than characters.

Jeff and Nathan hope that with those collaborators they can tell stories that enact change. “We want to create films that make people rethink what it is to be human,” Jeff says. “How should we act, how should we treat each other?”

To see more of Salazar’s work, visit their website.

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