This is a statement by Judith – founder of Colour the Trails (CTT)
Last year I was invited to help create a film for Eman Salem called IronSelf Movie. I knew Eman for 3 years by then, really believed in them and their project, and without hesitation offered CTT expertise and connections in outdoor film-making to help bring their vision to life. Beyond my better judgment, I became involved both personally and from a business perspective. CTT took part in promoting, fundraising, and producing media for this film. A lot of individuals and organizations trusted CTT name, and supported the project with financial donations and volunteering their time.
In the past few months, people have reached out in excitement that the film is being screened at private events, and asked if we personally and as a community group will attend. We have also been getting inquiries as to why there is no mention of CTT within promotional materials.
CTT pulled out of the project in November 2021 after the filming part was completed. This decision came after the realization that we were existing in a very toxic and problematic space by continuing to be involved and associated with this film.
Most of the production for IronSelf Movie was done by CTT, and we have not been compensated. As a result, all of the video and photo materials remain under the ownership of CTT. With that being said, the film is being screened in breach of trust, intellectual property ownership, and ethics.
While we were hoping for reconciliation and resolutions based on community values, we refrained from bringing any attention to issues that were occurring behind the scenes. However, over the last year, Eman and the IronSelf Movie team have made no efforts in engaging in a mediation/resolution process. Instead, I was alerted to the fact that rumors about myself and my work, targeting my credibility, integrity, and commitment within the Black community, are being spread by Eman and their close friends that were involved in the project. So this statement is a reaction to these bullying actions!
Prior to releasing this statement I, through various channels, sent Eman Salem multiple notices requesting that no materials filmed through connections and actions by CTT be used/published until we have come to some resolution regarding our established agreements and further clarifying the next steps. I would like to note that at the time this is being written we have received no form of communication from Eman or those involved in the public screenings of the Ironself Movie in return to our requests since December 2021.
Services provided by Colour the Trails for this project:
- Promoted the film to raise funds and awareness, provided our name to reach out to potential sponsors.
- Secured BC Parks permits for filming;
- Provided gear for the participants, including backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, stoves, water filters, hiking poles, and more;
- Secured a very experienced cinematographer whom we worked with in the past, built trust with, and got a big discount that was passed to Eman;
- Provided insurance for the group;
- Accompanied on 3 ventures (5 days total) ensuring the safety of the group.
Throughout the whole process, we received messages and social media posts from Eman stating that CTT is doing amazing work (which we have an extensive record of). No issues or concerns were raised. So everything seemed to be going great and we felt like our work was immensely valued.
On the contrary, Eman Salem acted in an absolutely irresponsible way throughout the project, disregarded any warnings, advice, preparation plans, and as result put the group in serious danger while in the backcountry. Some of the reasons we found the project problematic include:
- We strongly advised against the Wedgemount Lake hike chosen by Eman for filming due to the very challenging landscape and climate of the area. Eman disregarded any warnings and insisted on the location as it would look epic in the movie. Each participant was given details of the hike – it was everyone’s personal responsibility to do work to prepare for the hike. Preparation suggestions included activities such as taking walks in the city/parks, then progress to small hikes, walk around the park with a full backpack to gradually prepare for physical challenges of backpacking. The group had 6 months to prepare before the Wedgemount hike. However, the day of the hike became an extremely challenging venture, in which a hike that is 3-4 hours for an experienced person, and 5-6 for novice hikers, turned into a 12-hour excruciating day. Eman openly admitted that they did not do physical preparations for the hike. The group was exhausted, starving, in distress, and put into danger as Eman was constantly refusing to keep moving for the sake of the safety of the group: where time, spirit and energy are crucial things.
- Hours into the hike, and late in the day Eman refused to move and dropped their gear to the ground. It was getting very late, so I had to hike up the steepest part of the hike, put my stuff down, and come down to carry all of Eman’s gear up. Anyone who has hiked Wedgemount can imagine how it might feel to go the steepest part with a backpack twice in a row. It was a grueling experience for me. Videographers also carried Eman’s stuff on the way down to the car. I can surely say that if outdoor videographers and myself were not present, this hike would not be possible to complete by the group and could lead to potentially disastrous consequences to the health of the members of the group.
- Eman showed disrespectful behaviour towards land and campsites, including suggesting to film a celebratory bonfire during a fire ban season, sleeping in a warming/cooking hut instead of a tent (which is not permitted), and putting their own needs ahead of everyone’s wellbeing. There were signs that Eman never opened and got familiar with camping gear, as a result I was setting up a tent for them. This signaled to me that there was no effort made to learn about proper backcountry behaviour that contributes to the protection of land, wildlife, and other humans.
- The group did not disclose the existing health conditions of the members, which again put everyone in danger. We had to deal with complications without being aware of or having a chance to be prepared for this.
- There was no director guidance during the filming of two backpacking trips, and all the work was done by experienced videographers on their own. When I addressed this with Tinthi Tembo – the director of the movie – she told me that she can not hike, and think of the movie at the same time. This was a very frustrating statement, as it is indeed a challenging task, everyone was aware of it, and it was the responsibility of a person signing up to be an outdoor film director to put work into getting some experience. This again alarmed me that the project has not been taken seriously by the group.
The following unfolded after the hiking/filming part was completed:
- After the last trip, in their own distress and not being able to admit their mistakes, Eman began intensely accusing me of various issues which is simply not true. In follow-up meetings, Eman created a toxic environment, including shouting at me for almost an hour on one occasion, which left me in shock that they felt it is any kind of acceptable to raise their voice at me for any reason.
- There were some minor logistical and technical issues, which happen in any project, and those issues were shared among the whole group. And in any project, it is important to be somewhat flexible and adjust to challenges as a group of people to support each other. But I was personally accused of being responsible for many of them, and failing on the project, which I completely disagree with. On contrary, my belief is that if the project did succeed, it is mostly due to the expertise and hard work of CTT and the filming crew.
- When a person in the group had a medical issue, I took the person to safety ahead of the group. Eman stayed a bit behind with other members of the group. They (Eman) later accused me of abandoning them and it influenced their mental capacity, which was shocking to me as what I did was take their own friend to safety, while Eman was left in the company of their several close friends and videographer. But they only cared about their well-being, not their friend who was suffering in pain.
- Eman accused me of not dealing with their trauma, which I in no way would ever sign up for, as I do not have the training or expertise. We made it very clear from the beginning of the project – I am a supportive person with backpacking experience and knowledge of the area, but do not have any qualifications in trauma or mental health therapy. There were multiple close friends present on the hikes to support Eman, but somehow I was accused of not doing enough to respond to their needs. On the opposite, I believe I did my best to support Eman, while the rest of the group was not able to be there for Eman, and I had to assist multiple people in distress at the same time. I carried their stuff up the mountain and calmed Eman, when nobody else was able to help them.
- The Film festival where the film was planned to screen, has categories to group movies by topic like, “Skiing”, “Climbing”, etc. There was a category called “Colour the Trails” to showcase a set of films with racialized folks. When Eman learned that the film festival wanted to screen the movie as part of the “Colour the Trails” series simply due to best fit, they accused me of trying to capitalize on their trauma, assuming that somehow all the fame would go to Colour the Trails, and not to them. It was again incredibly frustrating, as the film did not fall under “Skiing”, “Climbing” or any other category. And I could not comprehend how a spotlight Eman needed, would be taken away from them.
However, speaking of capitalization, all the funds (a lot of funds!) raised for the film went directly to Eman. Colour the Trails had no access to any funds and had a compensation agreement at the very beginning of the project. A very small compensation compared to what any production company would actually charge, as we believed in supporting community members and projects. Eman themself said that our quoted fee was too low, and that they would do their best to pay us more than quoted. All those funds we quoted for our work would go back to the work Colour the Trails does with the community. Capitalizing on someone’s trauma was an extremely hurtful and uncalled-for accusation.
The initial idea of the film was that Eman, who went camping for the first time unprepared and which caused trauma to them both mentally and physically, will do much more work and the trip in the movie would be a redemption story. But after the filming completion, CTT saw a repetition of the story, not redemption, and was hesitant to keep our name attached to a project that is misleading and might promote dangerous behaviour; where the audience might assume it is ok to go into the mountains without taking preparations and safety measures seriously. I’ve hiked with many novice people with a variety of body types, physical and mental ability. Venturing into the outdoors can be done in a safe manner for everyone if learning and preparations are done. In the case of the IronSelf Movie, it became clear that it was about creating an epic movie as opposed to a realistic experience, and the importance of being prepared and keeping people around you safe.
With Eman’s unacceptable behavior and bullying in the following meetings, I consulted with the rest of the team, and we made a decision to depart from the project as our main part was done by that point.
After announcing my departure from the project, I did my best to leave in peace and wished the best to the project. Quote from one of several messages I sent to Eman: “Even though we parted ways, I want your project to succeed.” I had connected Eman to potential colourist and sound professionals, who offered a community discount, to further support them in the process of filmmaking. Eman promised to pay for the work of CTT and we shared all video materials in good faith.
But soon after, Eman refused to pay, stating CTT did not do the work to their standards, demanded unreasonable reporting, continued acting hostile and blocked us from any kind of further communication. This has had a financial impact on the programming and initiatives we would like to bring to the community. While I was told that if I pursue any actions against the group, I am breaking the community. Which excluded the fact that I am also a member of the community and being bullied! I am a Black woman doing a lot of community work, yet somehow do not deserve to be treated with compassion and empathy.
I would also like to mention that group members – Tinthi Tembo, Palesa and Jesse – were present at the meetings, observed all of this, and offered no dialogue or support in communication. I personally took care of Palesa and Tinthi when they had mental and physical needs during the hikes, and guided them to safety. I am disappointed at their silence and active involvement in perpetuating harm, especially since all of them claim to be for community support.
We made multiple efforts to give Eman a chance to reconcile, pay for our work and move forward without any hard feelings. We called to their radical compassion, offered to put everything aside, and not bring anything up publicly for the sake of the community of Black people. If only Eman paid the small amount we agreed on, they could screen the film with no issues. But Eman put forward unreasonable demands to “prove” CTT did the work, and showed no interest in discussing options or offering solutions, told me not to message them again and blocked me.
While it is ok to not agree on deliverables, it also means our work can not be used until some agreements are reached. But Eman proceeded to use our work to make a film with the intention to screen it at film festivals. As much as I can tell, the movie is presented as a huge success, which to me means Colour the Trails did a great job. We proceeded to issue a cease and desist on videos that till this moment, belong to CTT as we never got paid. It is both legally and ethically unacceptable to use someone’s work without permission or adhering to compensation outlined in an agreement. As most events would not screen a film that is based on stolen intellectual property, the IronSelf movie was pulled out of at least one film festival it was supposed to be screened at. But private screenings at spaces one can rent, do not control what is shown on their screens. Also there are fake festivals like London International Short Film Festival that a random person can just create online on a streaming platform and there is no real festival or people behind it. So the IronSelf Movie group proceeded to use that to screen the film. It is definitely a grueling experience to attest to illegality that takes a lot of time and resources, while unethical use can proceed.
In response to absolutely no accountability, we followed the fair way to review the situation – CTT submitted a court case for the unpaid invoice. Yesterday we served Eman with a notice in person. Eman showed no integrity or willingness to act at least professionally. They refused to take notice in respectful way hands to hands (which is actually not required for service). This again indicates that they are not willing to face fair review and reconcile.
There was no disclosure, transparency or accountability about this ongoing situation with any sponsors and supporters of the project. While everyone was expecting to see the film at a film festival in February, Eman made no follow-up with anyone once it got canceled. Individuals and organizations have donated a lot of funds with trust to be used appropriately. As CTT name was attached to the fundraising, we were left to disclose the situation to multiple donors, while Eman held no accountability.
The outcome of this is that WE as a whole community lost trust with donors. Many sponsors were requesting updates on the film and CTT’s role in it. After learning about the issues with the project, many donors expressed hesitation to support community projects again. So this has far-reaching impacts on CTT, and the Black community in Vancouver and beyond.
So I share this all because this is not just harm to me, but to the entire Black community and because you deserve transparency and accountability. Thank you for reading through!