Documentary, 50 minutes
FilmCan npp films inc. film+NEWmedia
Film Trailer on Vimeo
Writer Noah Richler summed up the sentiments best after the screening of the film ‘Northwords’ last night at the Rockwood Pavilion just ahead of the 30th Annual Festival of the Written Arts, and I paraphrase:
Aboriginal Studies should be a mandatory requirement for matriculation from high school in Canada. We need to meet each other more, in more places, and the studies would provide immediate and highly meaningful employment to First Nations people, educate Canadians in the earliest history and culture of our country, and connect us all to the deeply affecting landscapes of our heritage through Aboriginal leaders and teachers.
How revolutionary, and yet, such a ‘duh!’ moment. Northwords, a documentary project filmed in the Torngat Mountains National Park in 2011 that follows five Canadian authors as they explore ‘the North’ and hosted by Shelagh Rogers of ‘The Next Chapter’ radio program on the CBC, prompted many such realizations during its 50 minute entirety.
That we should refer to the far north or wild places as ‘hinterlands’ or ‘the wilderness’, as if they are somehow empty if our egocentric selves aren’t installed in – or more likely on – the landscape, as if there is no history in them until the 1700s when non-aboriginals first came ashore, awash in arrogance and a celebration of discovery that failed to notice evidence both living and historical of cultures thousands of years old. Such is the legacy for descendants of colonizing cultures around the world.
To watch Northwords, to hear or read the writers’ stories, is to witness on an almost cellular level the deep symbiosis between humans and the natural world, a sensation most modern day individuals have lost connection with in even the most rudimentary of experiences. Experiencing the landscapes with Labrador elder Sofie and Inuit teenagers shows us our hubris at viewing whatever is outside of the narrow belt of population crowding the 49th parallel as being a kind of mere setting showing off our city stages, or even our fringed lifestyles on the edges of non-aboriginal settlements.
The five authors, Joseph Boyden, Sarah Leavitt, Rabindranth (Rabin) Maharaj, Noah Richler & Alissa York, with varying exposure to the north, are taken on a seven day journey involving boats of all sizes, helicopter, and hiking, and invited to write an entirely new piece based on their experience. Shelagh, the project’s host, is an enthusiastic participant in the adventure, bringing her vast experience as a journalist and radio personality to bear on teasing out the nuances of the people and the landscape of the journey.
Both Shelagh and Noah were present for the screening of the film, and Noah read his piece arising out of the journey to the crowd of eager listeners. Based on the actual release of liability form each writer was required to sign prior to beginning their journey, it was by turns funny, wickedly pointed, political, astutely perceptive, and above all, honouring of the First Peoples who have lived in and of the North for thousands of years.
You can hear Shelagh’s radio show about Northwords on CBC’s The Next Chapter web site, along with the individual stories read by the writers who penned them.
Northwords has been picked up by the CBC for broadcast sometime this fall – join Shelagh Rogers on the Facebook page for The Next Chapter and dates should be posted there. In the meantime filmCAN lists the screening dates and locations for the film at live venues here.