Documentary captures life off the grid

The idea of spending nine months in the wilderness might conjure up images of loneliness, boredom and isolation to some. But Suzanne Crocker and her family would disagree.

The idea of spending nine months in the wilderness might conjure up images of loneliness, boredom and isolation to some.

But Suzanne Crocker and her family would disagree.

The Dawsonite filmmaker, her husband and three children spent almost 200 days living in the bush from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011.

The experience is preserved in the 88-minute film, All The Time In The World, which was among nine Canadian feature documentaries chosen to screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct. 1.

Crocker and her husband Gerard first presented the idea to their children because they were unsatisfied with not having enough time for each other.

“We couldn’t really find a way to divorce ourselves from all the distractions in life, such as the Internet, projects, work,” she said.

“There was a realization that we didn’t have all the time in the world and our kids were growing up very quickly. We tried more conventional ways to get a better balance in our lives but didn’t have any success.”

The children – aged four, eight and 10 at the time – were enthusiastic about the idea and the decision was made to pack up and move off the grid for nine months.

Their destination was a cabin with no electricity, no running water, no Internet and no television.

“I don’t think they really understood what that meant,” Crocker said.

Crocker sent out a mass email explaining her project and deleted her account.

She called it a liberating experience.

The cabin’s location is a secret, she said, but specified it can’t be accessed by road.

A large amount of supplies were brought in by canoe.

Beans, dried fruit, powdered milk and canned vegetables, among other foods, as well as educational resources and a lot of books.

“My kids still run the other way when someone mentions bean and rice,” Crocker said.

In the early morning and late evenings, the family would read stories out loud.

The books ranged from Charles Dickens to Farley Mowat to Jack London.

Sam, Kate and Tess were homeschooled in the morning until it was time to go out and play.

They even found an innovative way of replacing the family’s traditional movie night.

The children would run off and record impromptu stories on Crocker’s audio recorder, then play them to each other while eating popcorn.

There was never a dull moment in the entire nine months they spent there, Crocker said.

“The kids would create their own entertainment,” she said.

“They never expressed a desire to go back to Dawson. They’d create their own games, puzzles, mazes, stories and even bow and arrows. Their creativity flourished and the sibling rivalry was at its least.”

Gerard, a doctor in Dawson, would go back to town every few months to check on the clinic and bring back a few supplies. It would take him all day to travel the distance.

When the nine months was up, Crocker wasn’t ready to go back to her old life.

The first thing she did when she stepped into her home was to remove the clock from the wall.

She said she developed a whole new concept of time by living in isolation.

“It’s really amazing to live by the seasons rather than the clock,” she said.

“In the fall and spring we didn’t know what time we were getting up or going to sleep at. “There was an awareness of the weather, the seasons, the animals and insects around us. That was very liberating.”

She admitted the clock has since gone back up onto the wall but she hasn’t worn a wristwatch in three years, something she used to wear.

She also realized the amount of peace and tranquility one finds living in the bush.

When approaching Dawson by canoe on their way back to town, the family was amazed as the amount of noise emanating from nearby vehicles.

They had an interesting experience when a friend came over to welcome them back to civilization.

“We were talking and all of a sudden I just stopped, and looked at my daughter,” Crocker said.

“I asked her what that noise was. We thought it was an airplane flying over the house. He said it was the refrigerator cutting in.”

Crocker emerged from the experience with around 500 hours of footage. It took her about three years to complete the documentary.

One of the obstacles she faced as a filmmaker was to record the experience she was actually living.

“I was fortunate that my family got used to the camera’s presence very quickly,” she said, “and I think that’s why I got such great footage.”

“One day, Gerard chopped his finger while chopping wood, so he comes into the cabin bleeding and needing stitches. From a filmmaking point of view, you’d want to get the camera out but I couldn’t ask him to wait while I got it and set it up.”

“There are a lot of dramatic moments you can’t film because you have to be a wife or doctor or mother.”

She hopes that viewers are reminded just how little time we actually have in this world, and to make the most of the moments we do have, she said.

The film will be coming to Whitehorse for the Available Light Film Festival next February.

It will also screen at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival in April and made available on the Internet at some point, too. “I’d say the hardest thing to live without was a hot shower or a hot bath,” she said.

“And also the friendships with other people. If I’d had a friend living a few kilometres away, I think I honestly could have stayed there.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at