Reel Big Year
Far away from studio soundstages, filmmakers in Canada’s North often battle the elements and onerous logistics to bring their work to the big screen. Yellowknife writer and director Jen Walden, who shot parts of her first feature film, Elijah and the Rock Creature, amongst the charred forest and salt plains of Wood Buffalo National Park, says filming outdoors in the North is a challenge, but an asset.
“We have scenery in the film that will blow away audiences from the south. They’ll think it was made on a green screen,” Walden says. But the perfect shot doesn’t happen without a lot of sweat and grit. “You can’t drive in, so we were carrying in all of the gear on our backs—dollies, rails, cameras, lunch. But that’s the beauty of a Northern crew. They’re not afraid of the bugs. They’re tough and can appreciate the landscape they’re working in.”
Elijah and the Rock Creature is a live-action film about a boy lost in the wilderness who encounters a fantastical creature on his journey back to his mother. Its worldwide premiere was held September 26, 2018 at Yellowknife International Film Festival, one of several annual festivals in the North.
As end credits roll on 2018, here’s a look at film news in the North—and a preview of coming attractions.
The Grizzlies made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film is based on the true story of how a Kugluktuk youth lacrosse team used the sport to heal intergenerational trauma. Shot partly in Iqaluit in 2016 with local actors, The Grizzlies is directed by Miranda de Pencier and two of the film’s producers are from Nunavut: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk) and Stacey Aglok MacDonald (Qanurli?).
Celebrated Inuk director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and Maliglutit) is set to release his latest feature film. “Shot a new film this spring, One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, coming out hopefully this winter,” the award-winning director posted on social media in July. A poll of TIFF critics named Atanarjuat the greatest Canadian film ever made, so no doubt you’ll hear more about Kunuk’s latest project in the coming months.
The crew working on Red Snow battled snow and wind while shooting in Dettah this spring. The feature film from Vancouver-based Métis director Marie Clements follows Dylan (played by Asivak Koostachin), a Gwich’in soldier from Aklavik who is ambushed during a mission in Afghanistan. The film, now in post-production with a planned 2019 release, features actors using four different languages: Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, Pashto and English. Pablo Saravanja and Jay Bulckaert of Yellowknife’s Artless Collective worked as line producers during the NWT shoot.
Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp has adapted his graphic novel Three Feathers into a feature film, which also features actors speaking in four different languages—Cree, Chipewyan, South Slavey and English. Shot around Fort Smith in 2016, the film is in post-production with an eye on a 2019 release.
While the Yukon’s film industry waits to hear if a new Hollywood production of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild will shoot in the territory, there are plenty of other projects under way. Thin Ice is a six-part web series currently in production that follows a rookie RCMP officer investigating a brutal murder in a remote town. Producer Kelly Milner and writer Kirsten Madsen developed the project with support from the Yukon Film Society, Telefilm Canada, and the National Screen Institute.
And at least two Yukon documentaries are slated for release in the next year. In the feature-length How to Bee, director Naomi Mark learns about beekeeping from her father as he deals with his declining health and Sovereign Soil, a feature documentary co-produced by the Yukon’s Andrew Connors and the National Film Board, follows food producers across four seasons in Dawson City.
FILM FESTS: On a big screen near you
Yukon: The big screen will brighten up Whitehorse during the Available Light Film Festival. From February 2-10, 2019, the festival will screen more than 50 Canadian and international films, with a special focus on Northern and Indigenous content. Special guest filmmakers are always on hand and an industry summit, which includes talks and workshops, runs concurrent with the festival.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Dawson City International Short Film Festival. Running April 18-21, the 2019 festival will screen more than 50 Canadian and international films alongside events such as workshops, a street feast and live music.
NWT: The Dead North Film Festival brings thrills, chills and kills back to Yellowknife in February 2019. The festival screens short horror/fantasy/sci-fi films made during the winter months from all over the circumpolar North. Amateurs and professionals compete for Zombear awards, including one for Best Death.
The Yellowknife International Film Festival, September 26 to 30, features the first annual NWT Professional Media Association awards to honour the best of the territory’s short and feature-length productions. If you missed it, you can catch YKIFF Winterlude and a community tour that will screen more films in winter 2019.