Before the screening of The Herd, which kicked off the DCISFF last night, director Peter Lynch joked that his 100-minute movie should be called 32 Short Films About Reindeer. But no one in the packed Odd Fellows Hall seemed to mind the length or the incongruity of opening a short film festival with a full-length documentary.
The Herd tells the astonishing true story of a drive of 3,000 reindeer from Alaska to the MacKenzie Delta as part of a Canadian government plan to give Inuit there a livelihood. The journey, begun in 1929 and led by 62-year-old Andy Bahr with and a small team of Inuit and Sami herders, meant travelling 2,400 km across unmapped land in horrific conditions, including extreme cold in the winter and extreme bugs in the summer. Even if it had taken only the planned 18 months, instead of the six winters and five summers it actually lasted, the venture seems insane in retrospect. And the fact that “you don’t lead the herd, the herd leads you,” as Bahr liked to say, sure didn’t make the trip any easier.
During four visits to the Arctic so he could shoot a reindeer herd — descendants of the original one — in all four seasons, Lynch choreographed the scenes with the actors and the herd using snowmobiles and helicopters. “I learned how to direct reindeer,” he says. His wife and collaborator, film editor Caroline Christie (above, with Lynch), who joined him for the Q&A session following the screening, recalls that his lament when they were cutting was, “No one’s going to believe it. They’re going to think it’s CGI.”
During seven months of editing, Christie combined Lynch’s gorgeous and haunting Northern footage, some archival footage with scenes shot in Toronto featuring actors such as Colm Feore and Don McKellar. Grahame Green narrates and the script is based on archival material.
Lynch, whose 13-minute Paahtomahksikimii closes the festival Sunday night, called making The Herd a life-altering experience for a self-described latte-sipping Torontonian. Spending all that time in the North changed his perception of Canada and “our uneasy relationship to nature.”
Unfortunately, the “Buried Treasure” billing for this powerful film was not just hype because screenings of The Herd are rare these days due to rights issues involving the actors and the music. Perhaps that’s why Lynch and Christie seemed to particularly enjoy talking about the movie with the appreciative audience in the hall and, later, across the street at Bombay Peggy’s, where the discussion continued well into the night.
— posted by Tim Falconer