Kathleen “Kate” Rice was born in December 1882 and passed in January 1963; however, in the entwining 80 years, she made history. She did so as an intelligent and formidable woman, who excelled in the male-dominated occupation of prospecting. Facing insurmountable odds, Rice figured out the game and then played it by her own rules. Like many prospectors before and after her, she won, she lost, and she made a life of it.
She has an island named for her, was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has been mentioned prominently in several books, and numerous articles have chronicled her deeds. After all, she accomplished feats that few men and even fewer women had before her. Now comes word that her life’s work will be celebrated in a movie and a documentary.
Last week, I caught up by phone with Steve Payne of Totem Studios in Toronto, where he was attending TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).
Payne explained that he and partner Scott McKay have initiated a two-part project. Firstly, a one-hour documentary about women in mining, reflecting on the contributions of Kate Rice as a catalyst to women entering the mining industry, as well as the importance of their contributions to the trade. The men are currently working with a broadcaster on a contract for this. The second part is a feature film on a portion of Rice’s life, with a working title of “Woman of the Wilds.”
They are currently raising upwards of $20,000, through their community, for script development, story editing, and screen writing. The venture will go to the next step once the script is in hand. “It will be a lower-budget project,” said Payne. “I imagine the budget will be around a million dollars, and will be approximately 80-85 minutes; a feature length.”
With funding from private sources, Canadian Media Fund, and possibly Telefilm Canada, Payne says that shooting locations will include the Snow Lake and Thompson areas. “Basically all through the north, where Kate Rice lived and travelled,” he noted.
No one has been signed on in respect to acting component of the project, but Payne says they are hoping to pick up A-list talent. “The tricky part about the casting is finding a dynamic female actor who can play a (age) range of about 20 years,” said Payne. “The film will start with Kate in the bush, mid-career, about the time she meets her partner (Dick Woosey), then tell a bit of her backstory, before moving forward with her story.” Payne says that they will be as historically accurate as their budget and schedule will allow. “I’m pretty confident that we can have a really great story told, with a lot of accuracy, while reflecting Kate’s journey.” He adds, “We are really excited about it. There couldn’t be a story that was better suited to our current gender equity and political climate. I love the story, because it has a strong female protagonist, it’s got some great elements and I absolutely love the north, and the idea of filming in the north and working with crews up there is really appealing to us.”
Totem Studios consists of production partners Payne and Scott McKay, who is the post-production supervisor. The men share duties behind the camera, but Payne does the lion’s share of writing and directing. Payne’s background covers 30 years. He is a former CBC Radio employee, where he began as a writer, moving up through the ranks into TV, but says that he always loved radio. He freelanced in Toronto, then moved to staff in Cape Breton and Halifax, before freelancing again in Winnipeg. “I always did rural and resource-based stories,” he said. “They had the most appeal to me.”
Payne explained that MaryAnn Mihychuk brought the story to the men and when they saw that all the elements of a great film were there, they were immediately taken by it. Of Mihychuk, Payne notes, “She’s a very honest, straightforward lady … a mover and a shaker and I think in a lot of ways she identifies with Kate for those reasons.”
The studio partners plan to be in Snow Lake in early to mid-October, once they finish up a webisode series they are working on in Northwestern Ontario. Asked if they had thought of premiering the movie in Snow Lake … Payne said they hadn’t thought of it, but it would be a definite consideration.