A Lake Country man’s dream of documenting wildlife and making a difference in the world has come true.
Filmmaker Mike McKinlay spent the last three and a half years creating Toad People, with co-creator Isabelle Groc, which is a documentary based on the conservation efforts that Chilliwack residents and grassroots conservationists have been making in order to preserve western toad populations.
The toads are at risk due to habitat loss as humans encroach on their wetlands.
The film recently won the Impact category at the Wildscreen Panda Awards, which have been dubbed the ‘Wildlife Oscars.’
“When we won, for the first time, my jaw actually (dropped),” McKinlay said.
“When I heard the name and the winner is ‘Toad People’ we were in disbelief, it was very exciting, I almost fainted when I tried to get up the stairs.”
Produced by the Wilderness Committee, Toad People not only tells the story of the western toad, but of any wildlife species that people across B.C. are attempting to save—be it amphibians, mountain caribou, rattlesnakes or barn owls.
Toad People is the only fully Canadian film nominated this year. The awards are part of the world’s biggest festival of natural history storytelling and receive hundreds of submissions annually. The awards were announced Oct. 19 at The Passenger Shed in Bristol, England, one of the oldest train stations in the world.
McKinlay, 42, attributes his passion for film and wildlife conservation to growing up in the Okanagan, surrounded by nature.
“We grew up in the forests near Coral Beach in Winfield and I spent my whole life there until I was about 22,” he said.
Growing up in Lake Country, he attended George Elliot Secondary before moving to Kelowna Secondary School after he moved to Kelowna.
“That was just where I became who I was,” he said. “It’s definitely a part of who I am.”
After having an epiphany at 23 that led him to want to pursue filmmaking, he moved to Vancouver.
He started by creating wildlife documentaries on the side, often for no money.
“Filming wildlife is a tricky business,” he said.
His first documentary Crows was sold to the Knowledge Network.
“You need to get out and film these animals and do it for no money because you’re not going to get paid to do it right away and you need to make these contacts. When I think about my journey through all these years, it’s just been meeting people and connecting people,” McKinlay said.
After Crows, McKinlay started getting phone calls from biologists and conservationists, asking to make videos. Those connections eventually led to the creation of Toad People.
“You’re not just going to jump into a big film like that and be a success, (you really have to) crawl your way to the top,” he said. “It was literally 15 years of just getting to know everybody that I needed to know and then getting to a point where you have the trust of the wildlife and conservation community, so they let you into their world.”
He said people connected with Toad People because it shows the co-existence of people with nature and it also showcased an at-risk species that no one knows about.
“We took a risk in not documenting a big ticket species like a bear or a whale. Instead, we targeted a species that never gets championed and I think it struck a chord with the festival and with people,” he said.
The crew is currently talking with international distributors to decide where the film will be showcased.
“I think we’re sort of at a plateau now,” he said. “It’s all been a little bit exciting to see where this continues.”
At the end of the day, the centre of the film is about the ability of the average everyday person’s ability to make a difference in the world.
“The only hope that we have is that it changes how people look at the world and wildlife and endangered species… that’s what this is all about, changing the laws and making people understand what’s at stake and making people realize that anyone no matter who you are… anybody can go out and make (a) change like this. The more that the film gets out there, the more people learn that they can make change and we can change the world. That’s the only reason we make these films,” he said.
He said the next step is working with the Knowledge Network to create another community-focused documentary.
— With files from Sarah Gawdin