The 2017 Dawson City International Short Film Festival opened on Thursday 13 April with a very special feature presentation of the documentary Dawson City, Frozen Time. The showing, not surprisingly, was sold out — and extremely well received — given the keen local interest in the production. Dawson City, Frozen Time pieces together the bizarre true history of a collection of some 500 films dating from 1910s through 1920s that were lost for over 50 years in a former swimming pool until being dug up during excavations for Dawson’s new arena. Using those permafrost-protected, rare silent films plus newsreels, archival footage, interviews, and historical photographs to tell the story, Director Bill Morrison tells Dawson’s history by chronicling the life cycle of the film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation.
Morrison was in the audience for this, the film’s Canadian premiere, as were noted Yukon historians and former Dawsonites Kathy Jones-Gates and Michael Gates. The Gates appear in the production, which recounts how the duo were instrumental in the original archaeological efforts that led to the salvaging of the rare — and, incidentally, highly inflammable — nitrate film stock.
During a question-and-answer session following the screening, Kathy and Michael elaborated on some of the events depicted in the documentary, as well as adding some supplementary vignettes, including the budding of their own romance when working together on the find. Morrison explained how the film came to be, relating some of the serendipitous pieces that fell into place, and answered audience questions about his creative approach and the challenges in bringing the ambitious project to fruition.
— Dan Dowhal, Writer-at-Large