The Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF), opening Friday, Mar. 4, 2022, features a formidable lineup of Canadian films, from coming-of-age narratives and laugh-out-loud comedies to powerfully moving documentaries and dramas. One, The Common Thread, directed by Braden Dragomir, promises to take audiences on an emotional journey to another continent and into the mind and heart of an extraordinary local artist.
By all accounts, Heather Haynes was a successful artist with an agent, and was continually selling commissions. Feeling like her work was being commoditized, she longed for inspiration. A quest, inspired by Lisa Shannon’s book A Thousand Sisters, led Heather to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after which her work abruptly took on new meaning, altering the trajectory of her life forever.
In the midst of violence, war, and unspeakable cruelty, she found a community of strong women, children, and families fighting for peace. This film shares Heather’s connection to The Democratic Republic of Congo through the creation of her latest work – a 15-foot canvas entitled, The Common Thread.
Director Braden Dragomir of Kingston-based video production company, Untold Storytelling, shared that the documentary looks at what it means to be an artist.
“[Heather] was doing work in her profession, but just wasn’t feeling fulfilled. You know, the work was becoming commoditized. It wasn’t feeling as purposeful as when she started,” he mused. “And so, she went on these trips to Africa, and found this whole new purpose and this whole new calling.”
After visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo city of Goma in 2012 and spending a few days with women who were awaiting or healing from fistula surgery at HEAL Africa Hospital, feeling completely helpless, Haynes vowed to use her talents to do “something” to help them.
Her first art piece for this initiative was Wall of Courage, an 80-panel piece featuring orphan Congolese children, which has toured North America from Kingston, Ontario to Beverly Hills, California, raising money for various projects in Congo. With funds raised from this project, and through generous donations, Haynes and others established a non-profit corporation called The Art of Courage, a platform for storytelling through art to create awareness, educate, advocate, and raise funds to change the lives of women and children in Goma.
The film, debuting at the 2022 KCFF as part of the Canadian Shorts 2 program, weaves itself around a similar Haynes creation, a new 6’x15’ canvas called The Common Thread.
Haynes explained how this combination of art and charitable work has become her passion, noting, “We support 140 children, we have a school that educates 400 children for free…Yeah, I’m in this for life, you know? This is my family.”
“The art,” she divulged, “is the only way I know how to communicate that to the rest of the world in order to help me support the kids.”
She sells her art and raises funds to support the orphans of women who have died in the conflicts in Congo. The women she features in The Common Thread are the women who run the Tchukudu Kids Home, the Jonathan Holiday School, and the Tchukudu Women’s Training Centre, as well as the projects of Idjwi Island Permaculture Routes Academy, and various Medical Centres.
Some of these women are the now-grown-up girls featured in The Wall of Courage. It is important to Haynes to recognize the accomplishments of the women and children of Goma.
“I have daily interactions with the people there who are running the project… These are people I met there, who are doing amazing things for their own people. And all I’ve done is spread that word and help raise funds to support them… These are their projects, not my projects,” she shared, and her art is, “the way I’ve been able to share their stories to get support for them.”
Dragomir is excited for the KCFF hometown premiere, particularly because of the interwoven Kingston connections.
“You know, Heather’s a Kingston artist, we’re a Kingston production company, and it’s the Kingston Canadian film festival,” he explained. “So, you know, we were really excited to get accepted into this festival and have that celebration point of starting the journey of this film.”
He hopes that the film will be accepted into future festivals to share the story more broadly, and said, “the dream is we want to try to raise the funds to do a feature-length documentary, and we want to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and tell the story of [these women] and how their world intertwines with Heather’s, and how this whole project has influenced the lives of so many people.”
For her part, Haynes said, “I’m just excited for the community to see it… a lot of these projects have been supported by the Kingston community. A lot of the projects from the Congo, many supporters from the Kingston area are carrying them through. So, it’s a beautiful common thread in this story.”
The Kingston Canadian Film Festival began on Thursday, Mar. 3 and runs until Sunday, Mar. 13, 2022. The festival features are available at local theatres, or patrons can stream films at home. A Common Thread premiers Saturday, Mar. 5, 2022, as part of Local Shorts 2 at 5 p.m., and will remain available until the end of the festival.