Witness a cedar tree give life, transforming the world around it.

“Our teacher” focuses on Coast Salish carver Beau Wagner. Beau was mentored by late Stz’uminus First Nation master carver Elmer Sampson. Before he passed away, Elder Sampson told Beau he had a wish. He wished that his traditional teachings could be passed on to youths as a way of revitalizing Coast Salish canoe culture and fostering understanding and respect for Coast Salish knowledge. In September of 2021 Beau set out on a path to honour his teacher’s wish by carving a canoe on Gabriola Island, British Columbia (Canada) with the local elementary school students. As the children began to carve along with him, the cedar began releasing its life force, transforming the world around it with kindness, love, joy, and belonging.

About the filmmakers:

Beau Wagner, Producer.

Beau Wagner is an artist and woodworker who began carving as a young child. He lived for five years with a teacher from Stz’uminus, master carver Elder Elmer Sampson, who provided him with Snawayalth and knowledge of Coast Salish connections to wood and nature. His teacher understood these relationships as sacred. He told Beau a story about their family travelling to Fraser River to fish and visit with relatives while there. More importantly, in terms of his family history, he told Beau that he too was a relative. Today, there are very few carvers who have been taken under a master carver’s mentorship to receive daily teachings about life and our relationships to all living things. Beau’s paternal grandmother Marie Beaulieu was from Aggasiz. A residential school survivor, the trauma she lived through resulted in concealing her tribal history from her children. Beau has worked as a cabinet maker, shipbuilder/shipwright and as a carver of cedar, producing canoes, masks, rattles, and canoe paddles, and continuing to practice Coast Salish carving skills and teachings passed on to him by his teacher. 

Phillip Vannini, Director, Cinematographer, Editor.

Phillip Vannini is an ethnographic filmmaker who has produced, directed, written, and edited documentaries such as In the Name of Wild (2022), Inhabited (2021), A Time for Making (2018), Low and Slow (2016) and Life Off Grid (2015). His films have screened at numerous festivals and have been broadcast through television and VOD platforms such as Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Kanopy, Tubi, Shelter, Plex, Hoopla, and many more. Phillip is drawn to topics that reveal the deep connections between people and the places where they live and work. His style blends elements of participatory, observational, sensory, and collaborative film-making, systematically blurring the boundaries between art and anthropology. Phillip co-founded Knocking Robin Studios with partner April Vannini in 2020.

April Vannini, Writer, Editor.

April Vannini is a visual ethnographer working in research, film production and development, documentary writing, and editing. She has produced, directed, written, and edited documentaries such as In the Name of Wild (2022), Inhabited (2021), and A Time for Making (2018). The films have screened at festivals and have been broadcast through television and VOD platforms such as Prime, Kanopy, Tubi, Shelter, Plex, Hoopla, and many more. April is drawn to topics that help reimagine our place in the world and connect us to the local, and often unheard voices. She believes that the power of story gives us an opportunity to learn from another person’s experience and it can shape and challenge our opinions and values. She is drawn to visual ethnographic film and fieldwork and is grateful for the opportunity to always continue to learn from other people’s stories and experiences. April co-founded Knocking Robin Studios with partner Phillip Vannini in 2020.

Xwaluputhut (Patrick Aleck), Composer and performer.

Xwaluputhut (Patrick Aleck) is a drummer and singer from Stz’uminus First Nation and Penelakut Island. His objective as a young indigenous man is to be a positive voice and to make a difference in the community. Patrick is also a motivational speaker on the subject of living with cerebral palsy and dealing with stigmas around cerebral palsy. Over the years Patrick has led drum circles for non profit organizations and schools. He recently won the Emerging Cultural Leadership Award from the City of Nanaimo and he currently works with youth teaching various aspects of Indigenous culture.

Antonio Gradanti, Composer and performer.

Antonio Gradanti is a composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Toronto, he began his composing career at a very young age writing opera, musical theatre and romantic modern classical music. In 1991 he moved to the west coast of Canada and began performing concerts and teaching music, and eventually he started his own music school. After almost 20 years, he decided to follow his passion and write for film. He can be heard in works such as “Demon X” (TV series, Frostbite, 2017), “Dead Rising 4” (Capcom, Xbox, PS4, 2017), “Thirty Seventeen” (Hadron films, 2018) , and “Passport Control” (Reza Sholeh, 7 Innovation productions).

With the participation of the Gabriola Island Elementary School

Director’s statement

As an ethnographic filmmaker, I set out to document the interaction between Beau and the schoolchildren in the most naturalistic way possible. To minimize the obtrusiveness of the camera I worked alone, handling both image and sound. This allowed the children to get to know me as they got to know Beau. I began filming Beau in the late summer of 2021, the day he arrived to pick up a raw cedar log and transport it to the Gabriola Island Elementary schoolyard. I stayed with him until the canoe went in the water the next spring. During the month of September and early October the interaction between the school and Beau was minimal. But then the children got to know him better and became used to the camera. As they did, they began visiting with him regularly during recess, forming a unique friendship. Late in the fall, they decided they had watched him long enough, so they sat him down in chair and began carving. It was clear this was no longer somebody else’s canoe, it was theirs too. The more they carved, the more they took part in song and ritual, the more profoundly they began to respect and understand traditional teachings and Indigenous knowledge. This is not just a film about carving a dugout canoe, but a powerful healing journey that will force us to reflect on the meanings of education, curiosity, and the power of building respectful relationships with all life.


“Our Teacher” is scheduled for release in late 2023. Check again for updates or follow us on Instagram.