Film fest? Already over? Noooo! Besides the privilege of feasting on ideas and images for hours, it was a sunny long weekend. Hangover and sun don’t always mix, but with plenty of coffee creating an additional psychological shield, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons I drove some friends up to the top of the Midnight Dome for a cupcake break. It’s difficult to explain to non-Yukoners how Dawson really is in the middle of nowhere – when you’re in a film festival (or many other of the artistic events Dawson hosts) the town often feels like a small city.
Yet this is our backyard.
Last night wrapped with awards and also with the screening of a rough cut of the film a bunch of us workshopped into being under the guidance of Brenda Longfellow. In the Friday afternoon chunk of time we had two film crews (teams) out working on the scenes that we’d brainstormed as a group.
Brenda had set up the initial scaffolding of the idea – Dawson City melting into the ground as permafrost melts – and she had asked filmmaker-in-residence Marcia Connolly to take photos of some landmark buildings in Dawson. These included St Andrew’s Presbyterian and what we nickname “the kissing buildings” – buildings that have been leaning into melting permafrost for decades because they were built right onto the ground (rather than on a raised wooded foundation) so the heat from the buildings melted the permafrost. So Dawson already has a visual for what will happen if permafrost melts due to global warming (and it is melting in many locations in Yukon – Old Crow, for example – just not entirely sure if it’s happening in Dawson proper yet).
As a group we came up with a vignette to film at each of the locations, then divided into two crews to do the shoots (Thankfully Dawson filmmaker Bill Kendrick had brought a second camera to the workshop, so we were able to double up).
I was with the team that Marcia Connolly camera’d up, and it was eye-opening to see her, a professional video journalist, provide a combination of leadership (“keep the scenes going, we’re on the clock”) and sharing the chance to try out directing (“who’s directing this scene, Kit, do you want to do it? what do you think of this angle?”). Yukon School of Visual Art student Merren was a pro camera assistant, too (Marcia is adjusting audio levels in the image here).
Marcia is a one-person directing, shooting, and tripod-ing machine. Her body is part of this machine – she took hits of desk drawers landing on her shins without even flinching, for one scene.
In the scene I helped co-direct, she calmly knelt for the 10-15 minutes on the slush beside the icewater pond that we shot as the “field,” and kept her humour plus her specific directions going to both me and to Lulu Keating. “Cheat your face to the left, it’s better light.” “Now let’s get Katie to come toward the puddle while you call her – you don’t want the dog to get sucked into a melt one night.” “Meg, come on this side and let me know what you think of this angle.” Lulu, acting the part of a corn farmer whose crop had been sucked into the ground by a thermamelted blackhole overnight, gave a convincing performance as a Yukoner whose family home was slowly tilting onto its back like a turtle giving up the fight against damn gravity.
In short, Marcia was efficient, warm, professional, to the point while leaving room for lots of flexibility and new ideas – inspiring to work with.
So by Sunday night, we knew what scenes had been shot and what the main “plot points” were but you never know what’ll actually end up in the cut. Chris Clarke was one of the main editors of the rough cut that was shown, devoting huge amounts of energy to the project, and Rozalind MacPhail generously provided sound. The results were hilarious – hard to describe here but the rough cut of Dawson City Melting Down was a crowd-pleaser and I hope there will be a final cut sometime in the next months.
In fact the Fest itself included many discussions of/reflections on climate change, here are a few moments:
Gwynne Dyer spoke about “Climate Wars” on Saturday, leaving the crowd quite sobered;
screenings included Brenda Longfellow’s Carpe Diem with its operatic two-headed fish bickering about the effects of the Alberta Tar Sands on both economy and now-poisoned-rivers;
Tookie Mercredi’s Our Changing Homeland, Our Changing Lives narrated how permafrost melts around Old Crow (Vuntut Gwitchin land) have meant that the edges of lakes melted away, leaving nothing but mud flats – and no fish – behind;
Jay White’s animation Perfect Detonator (pictured below) lured us through a story of an almost-unstoppable machine that had to be destroyed by the same mammals that had created it in the first place (the machine tears up forests and kills birds, and works as a metaphor for any kind of cog-driven “arrg!” including our oil-dependent way of living).
Not that the DCISFF was themed around climate change, but the chance to bring humour to this serious issue was refreshing and energizing instead of holding steady on a single note of “oooh dooom” that sometimes rings through media (and through interpersonal discussions, since it is a big scary deal).
To put it more simply, it made my day to see a fake Dan Sokolowski deal with his desk sliding into a 40-degree-angled permafrost-melted hold by saying “it’s experimental, and kind of cozy, I like it.”
Last but not least, ending a film fest with a dance party is the best idea. All that pent up energy from sitting for hours gets to come out in Interpretive Dance Moments and conversations still burble on, building up energy for the film ideas that will be made between the now and the film fest of next year.
–by Meg Walker