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New film links Vietnam War protests with Doukhobor history

Heart of Gold, directed by Patricia Gruban, will premiere June 15 in Castlegar
Actor Pascal Lamothe-Kipnis as anti-war activist Mary-Bob in Heart of Gold quits architecture school and destroys her own schoolwork, because she says the school is complicit in the Vietnam War. Photo: Submitted

A new film with a Doukhobor connection will premiere at the Old Castle Theatre in Castlegar on June 15.

Heart of Gold, directed by Patricia Gruben, is set in the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s during the resistance to the Vietnam War.

Michael and his girlfriend, Mary-Bob, living in Texas, struggle with the prospect of his being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He ends up enlisting, infuriating Mary-Bob and causing her to break up with him.

But after a violent incident at bootcamp, Michael deserts the army and crosses the border into Canada, where he is befriended by a family of Doukhobors. This introduces the story of a Doukhobor man who has his own parallel narrative of resistance and imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Mary-Bob, still at home in Texas, becomes an increasingly militant opponent of the Vietnam War and almost kills someone in her activism.

Gruben, a retired film instructor at Simon Fraser University, moved to Canada after the Vietnam War. She says she is still grappling with the question of Michael’s and Mary-Bob’s sense of duty, and the quandaries of people who are “not able to separate the wrong part of what they’re doing from the right part.”

She said this conundrum plagues her Doukhobor character as well.

“We call the film Heart of Gold because it’s about people who were striving to figure out how to be.”

The story of Michael and Mary-Bob is based on Gruben’s own experience as an activist in the 60s, while the Doukhobor part of the film is inspired by Gruben’s attendance at a unique event that took place in Castlegar in 2006.

The Our Way Home Reunion was a weekend gathering designed to honour the contribution made to Canadian life by the U.S. war resisters who came to Canada during the Vietnam War, to honour the Canadians who helped them resettle, and to recognize the plight of American soldiers seeking safe haven in Canada at the time of the event during the war in Iraq. It was attended by many locals but also by people from far afield in Canada and the U.S.

It was there that Gruben learned about the Doukhobors, who were active in organizing and hosting the event. She discovered their history of pacifism in Russia and Canada, the rifts between the Sons of Freedom and the rest of the Doukhobor community in the 1950s, and their traditionally communal lifestyle.

Director Patricia Gruban’s film Heart of Gold draws on her own life as a young American anti-war activist in the 1960s. Photo: Submitted

Gruben uses archival footage, radio interviews, and photos of war and protest in both countries, as well as re-enactments of some parts of Doukhobor history. She consulted with several Doukhobor community leaders and cultural historians including the writer and historian Vera Maloff.

Gruben said when she begin looking for funding for the film she was often told that nobody cares about Vietnam War stories anymore. She agrees that for some years her film students seemed quite apolitical.

“But then gradually, first with climate change, and then with Occupy Wall Street to some extent, and Black Lives Matter, and now with the war in Gaza, the students have become much more activist. And I feel like they’re a lot smarter and more sophisticated and better educated than we were.”

Heart of Gold has been screened at several film festivals, but the Castlegar showing will be its first open public screening.

The film runs at 7 p.m. on June 15 and tickets are $12, available online at


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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