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Polaris: Artist Leslie Leong Creates Costumes from Scrap

February 8, 2023 Polaris: Artist Leslie Leong Creates Costumes from Scrap

Photo courtesy Little Dipper Films

Yukon isn’t exactly Hollywood, but we’ve had our share of film crews coming up here to shoot their films over the years. While many of these films will hire local crew and even actors, you’d be hard-pressed to find a locally produced film. That is, until now – until Polaris.

“It’s a dystopian fantasy thriller set in a frozen world.” Says Max Fraser , local independent filmmaker and the Yukon Producer for Polaris. The film features an all-woman cast, surviving off the land, but “the story centres on a 10-11-year-old girl who is raised by a polar bear.”

Polaris is one of the films being featured during the Available Light Film Festival, beginning this week on Thursday, February 9, 2023. The film itself can be viewed on Saturday, February 11, at the Yukon Arts Centre.

However, the fact that the film is locally produced isn’t the reason why Zero Waste Yukon invited Polaris to be featured in our Zero Hero series. We’re here because of how the art department went about making the costumes – that’s where local artist Leslie Leong comes in.

“They [Polaris] did have a costume designer,” says Leong, “but she doesn’t work in metal, so she was looking for someone.” When they approached her, Leong jumped at the chance: “My role was to make armour for this band of post-apocalyptic warrior women – pretty fun! … it was such a neat creative thing! How could you say no!”

The cast of warrior women

Photo by Leslie Leong

The Polaris Art Department specifically sought out Leong because she is a Yukon artist with extensive experience working with a wide variety of materials, and specifically recycled materials. Fraser notes Leong’s background with pre-used materials was important to the look of the film because “the script gave us a story where people are surviving in a post-apocalyptic environment … [there are] parts that take place in a vehicle junkyard, so the women would have been scavenging parts from there.”

Polaris cast on setPhoto courtesy Little Dipper Films

Despite her background, Leong was initially a little lost as to how to begin: “I didn’t know how to make them at first.” When looking around for inspiration, she found it in a pair of old rusting tins right in her own yard. “I had two in my backyard specifically because I was going to use them for planters, but I never got around to it. So when they talked about this armour that needed to be old, because they didn’t want anything shiny, I just took them out of my backyard, and then tried to cut them and shape them, and they seemed ok … we ended up needing a lot more.”

She needed to make around 10 helmets and 21 suits of armour, to be exact, all of which needed to look rusty, old, and made from repurposed materials. “You either have to distress them,” says Leong, “or get them [pre]distressed … sometimes, old materials are actually better. In this case, that was true. If you tried to use new materials, you’d have to try to rust it somehow. It’s pointless if you already have the source.”

Which is how she and a friend ended up in an old dump site in -35 weather to scavenge for materials.

“That was the hardest part for sure. We had to make two trips; each trip was about 5 kilometers there and back, and you had go down this steep bank and dig around where the garbage dump was and pull these things out, and then haul them by foot on sleds – so that was the hardest, getting the materials.”

Leong was also involved in sourcing non-armour costumes for the cast – and these also needed to look well-worn. They were furthermore working with a very short timeline, and the costume designer didn’t live in the Yukon.

“It was only three weeks from the time [the costume designer] arrived to get this all done. So I started the week beforehand to put the call out to the community for all sorts of stuff for her – and for me. … the community up here are so wonderful! Lots of people donated stuff that they were getting rid of anyways – and helmets because I needed the helmets to put the metal onto. … People like to contribute to those kinds of things – I think that’s really neat about our community.”

And the end result has had an impact. Says Fraser, “I just want to give a lot of credit to the art department. They were very resourceful. They very cleverly, very creatively put this together. … People are impressed with the look and the feel.”

Woman warrior in armour

Photo by Leslie Leong

In reflecting on her experience, Leong says she feels a sense of pride in her role to source and scavenge pre-used materials: “I like doing new things. I like learning. I like seeing what [different] materials can do and what we can use them for. … I want to get people to look at material differently, to look at their recycling differently. I just feel like we don’t need new stuff. … I think it helps, actually, to be more creative, because you are kind of forced to think outside of the box. And I think sometimes we just need a little bit of training in that.”

Fraser echoes her sentiment about using and reusing what we already have: “it’s an example for how we should all live in the future.”

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