Flin Flon roots spur documentary project by local filmmaker

Michael Lylyk wants to tell the world the stories of his people – Flin Flonners.

Lylyk is currently working on a documentary on the community and its history, using humour and visual aids to tell stories of the city’s founding and establishments.

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The project was partially inspired by a series of encounters any Flin Flonner who has moved away is familiar with – the incredulous questions about the town’s name.

“You always get people asking. It’s a really good party starter for someone to say, ‘I’m from Flin Flon.’ They immediately go, ‘Flip Flop? What kind of place is that?’” he said.

“It’s one of the stories I always go to when I meet new people or when they ask me dumb questions about who I am. That was the driving force to at least get me near getting started on this.”

Lylyk was raised in Flin Flon and left as a young man, first heading to Alberta before settling in the Vancouver area. He started studying film at Vancouver Film School, later switching to a journalism program at Langara College. While he’s spent the past few months living in Flin Flon, Lylyk has spent most of his time in BC, doing freelance film and audio work.

“I’ve always been into audio and video stuff. I went to film school first. I wanted to focus all on that stuff because, as I found out when I was in journalism school, I’m a terrible writer,” he said.

“Now is the time where I can pursue this stuff independently. I pick up freelance videography jobs while I can. That definitely helped me wanting to get back into film more.”

After moving back to Flin Flon for a short time this summer, the idea went from a nebulous concept to a full-fledged project.

“Something happened while I was here that just got me to think, ‘Maybe a documentary talking about a small town, as a whole, is a really good idea,’” he said, adding he felt that most of the news he had heard about his hometown from large outlets showed the town in a negative light.

“It made me look at the kinds of articles that are out there that are Flin Flon-related. It seems to me that CBC only picks something up whenever a racist thing happens or something blows up. I figured, let’s work on a more positive angle for that.”

Once the project began, Lylyk thought of the National Film Board short film vignette about Flin Flon that was shown on national television repeatedly in the late ’70s and ’80s. He’s even attempted some of the same shots from the original vignette – although, with notable structures like the South Main headframe no longer standing, they have a different look now.

Since shooting his first frames of B-roll, Lylyk’s project has taken on a life of its own. By his own estimate, he has shot about five hours of interviews with a range of Flin Flonners, including miners, arts personalities, youth and community leaders. He even got the thumbs-up from the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce to use the city’s Flinty suit, which he used in a short vignette of his own, explaining some bits of local history.

“A good chunk of the people I’ve talked to are just those that I’ve bumped into. The ones that I went to school with, I’m surprised they’re still here and they’re surprised to see me, I can ask them, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and then, you get a nice mix of the old generation and younger generation that are here and talking about why they’re still here and what the future is going to look like for them. It’s been awesome,” he said.

“I have to do a lot of transcribing and trying my darndest to figure out how I’m going to get this down to a two-hour thing. Right now, I’ve got four-plus hours of material.”

It will be Lylyk’s first-ever full-length documentary project. He hopes that using a town and surrounding area that he grew up in will help ease the project along.

“I said to myself, ‘I just want to do something bigger,’” he said.

“To be able to grow the brand, you’ve got to go into something beyond what you’re already doing. I figured doing a documentary about a place that I already know too well would be a very good place to start.”

Like any documentary, there will likely be a difference between the initial vision and finished product, but Lylyk said he hopes to provide an informative but irreverent look at the history of Flin Flon, using images from the community’s past and present.

“It’s incredibly quirky. The stories about it, the stories that people have, it’s the perfect place to start,” said Lylyk.

One of the stories that has caught Lylyk’s eye is the rise and fall of the Phantom Lake area. Once a bustling summertime hub, the beach at Phantom Lake is now overrun with weeds and vegetation.

“I became so interested in it – why is it the way it is? Why is it even called Phantom Lake in the first place? There’s a lot of different angles I suddenly had, just thinking about that,” he said.

“When I was still here – this had to be about 13 years ago, when I left – there was actually a lot to Phantom Lake still. Granted, it had already slowed down and not a lot was going on there, but there were still things happening. There was still a dock, there was still that merry-go-round. When I came back, that was the first place I wanted to look at. I saw how decrepit it was and neglected. I thought, ‘I can’t not talk about Phantom Lake now in this documentary.’”

Lylyk sees Phantom Lake as a cautionary tale for Flin Flon and the north at large.

“If I think about the future of Flin Flon, then Phantom Lake, to me, is a metaphor that needs to be addressed,” he said.

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