By Monica Delgado

Geographies of Solitude is the debut feature film by Canadian Jacquelyn Mills and is a different and auspicious experience in the documentary treatment and in the approach to its protagonist, the conservationist, activist and naturalist Zoe Lucas, who has lived since the seventies on an island lonely, Sable Island. The filmmaker’s gaze on her character allows us to value the committed dimension of Lucas in the study of the fauna and flora of the area and in his fight against the plastic waste that ends up in the confines of the island. And Mills does not stay in the convention, but she explores from the diversity of textures, exposures and montage that 16mm allows.

For Mills there is an extraordinary conjunction between Lucas and her environment. Although there is an ecological and environmentalist intention and conviction throughout the transfer of the story of Vida de Zoe Lucas to celluloid, the filmmaker approaches her subject / her object of auscultation from a look of admiration. Geographies of Solitude is not only a portrait film, but also includes a mise-en-scène on landscapes and on an idea of ??loss against which the protagonist could have been fighting for decades. For this reason, there is a melancholic resonance in the way Mills explores these places, from the shots of wild horses, seals and birds to the experimental montage of artificial matter that forcefully populates (or contaminates) this natural space. For Mills, even an inhospitable island is the victim of an entire culture of predation and pollution located thousands of kilometers away.

The sensitive and delicate power of this work resides largely in the character and influence of Zoe Valdez, in addition to the fact that her voice over with reflections and memories accompanies the entire footage. There is an archive material where she appears together with Jacques Costeau on the island, and that reveals a whole life dedicated to the defense of the environment. Thus, the images of Zoe taking notes, extracting garbage from the sea and the shores to analyze it, cataloging its origin, and her studies of the beaches and their biodiversity reveal her method of work, diligent and quasi-domestic, and that gradually allows us to discover the dimension of the environmental damage of which she is the only witness. For this reason, Geographies of Solitude also becomes a frightening film, perceiving that the actions of Valdez, from his non-profit institution, could be unsuccessful, given the actions and plastic industry of large transnationals that are going to give these bucolic and cold coasts.

Geographies of Solitude describes in an elegy tone the life of a single inhabitant on an island 100 km from Nova Scotia. This sensation of everything unique is populating the images of a poetics of the unusual, of the foundational, or of the primitive. Despite all this environment being perceived as Arcadian, where the fauna and flora seem to persist in the face of the vicissitudes of the same winter climate, the off-screen of humans and polluting industries appears painful and inevitable. And it is from this certainty that Zoe Valdez seems to be more alone than ever, in a double condition of hermit and witness of a slow destruction.

Director: Jacquelyn Mills
Photography: Jacquelyn Mills. Additional Camera: Scott Moore
Edition: Jacquelyn Mills. Additional Editor: Pablo Alvarez-Mesa
Sound design: Andreas Mendritzki, Jacquelyn Mills
Sound: Jacquelyn Mills
Producers: Rosalie Chicoine Perreault, Jacquelyn Mills
Canada, 106 min., 2022