Lights! Cameras! Caribou!

DCISFF17 Kicks Off!

The 17th edition of the Dawson City International Short Film Festival is underway. It began tonight with a special opening-night double bill of Yukon-themed screenings, which featured two very different types of films.

Memory Trap: The Herd That Wouldn't Die chronicles the challenges and resilience of the Forty Mile Caribou Herd
Allan Code’s documentary Memory Trap: The Herd That Wouldn’t Disappear chronicles the challenges and resilience of the Forty Mile Caribou Herd

Memory Trap: The Herd that Wouldn’t Disappear is an hour-long documentary by Whitehorse filmmaker Allan Code. The film follows the Forty Mile Caribou Herd for a year through the remote wilderness of North Yukon and Alaska, telling their story of survival and how traditional knowledge and science saved the herd from near extinction. The Dawson screening is only the second showing of the film, which premiered recently at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. The filmmaker was not in attendance, having sent his regrets, as he is on location up the Dempster Highway in the northern Yukon, and continuing to chronicle the caribou. Nevertheless, there was a noticeable buzz through the Odd Fellows Hall as the audience waited for the film — not surprising given there is a special affinity between Dawsonites and the Forty Mile Herd.  The documentary itself, while uplifting in being able to relate the herd’s almost-miraculous recovery from near extinction, was still sobering and often disturbing. Like many works with an ecological theme, humanity’s myopia and wanton abuse of the natural world are brought to the fore, and given the abuses of the past, it is difficult to be optimistic about the future, despite the Forty Mile Herd’s return from the brink.

The Grubstake Remix is a frolicking reworking of a classic Canadian silent film.
The Grubstake Remix is a frolicking modern-day reworking of a classic Canadian silent film.

The second feature, The Grubstake Remix, was a lighter offering. The film. directed by Daniel Janke, is a creative and entertaining modern interpretation of The Grub-Stake, a 1923 northwoods melodrama by Canadian screen icon Nell Shipman. It tells the story of a young woman named Faith (played on-screen by Shipman and voiced by Sarah Moore) who goes north to the Klondike to seek her fortune, only to be deceived and manipulated in a world of men. Faith escapes into the bush with her ailing father and a half-wit prospector to lead battle against her wrongful suitor and his henchmen.

The film adds layers of music and dialogue to the original silent footage — except that the dialogue is a mash-up of Shakespearean excerpts, and the performance was originally done live. Footage of the actors and musicians doing the live performance are intermixed with the dubbed story. Director Janke was in attendance, and participated in a discussion after the screening. He said that taking the show on the road as a live production was logistically and financially prohibitive, but was pleased with the final filmed version being screened. And indeed the audience agreed, as the resulting modern-day retelling was a fun frolic that surely even Shipman and The Bard would have approved of.

Film fest director Dan Sokolowski stepped to the microphone at the start of the evening’s screenings to welcome festival-goers, and to thank the sponsors, filmmakers, staff, and volunteers that continue to make the DCISFF such a fabulous event. And the thanks are certainly well deserved, especially this year, given that Easter fell much earlier than normal, and as a result there was even less time available to get all the pieces in place. The results will now be there on the screens for everyone to enjoy for the rest of the weekend.

— Dan Dowhal, Dawson City Writer-at-Large