Caffeinated cinema with a northern twist

Very few documentaries are processed using a mixture of instant coffee, vitamin C and washing soda. But if you're in Old Crow, you use what's available.

Very few documentaries are processed using a mixture of instant coffee, vitamin C and washing soda.

But if you’re in Old Crow, you use what’s available.

Back in September a team of filmmakers invited residents to use Super 8 cameras, the ones commonly used to shoot home videos in the 1950s and 60s, to capture an hour of their day.

The 8-millimetre film, which is now widely viewed as obsolete, was then processed using the simple ingredients and projected onto a wall for digitization.

That’s how residents created Sound We See: an Old Crow village symphony, a film that chronicles 24 hours in the life of the remote community.

Each hour of footage was edited down to one minute, and the result is a 24-minute film that will be screened at the upcoming Dawson City International Short Film Festival.

Lisa Nielsen, a Vancouver-based filmmaker who has been visiting Old Crow since 2008, got the idea for the film from colleagues in Los Angeles who had made similar documentaries in Vietnam, Holland and India.

She said she enjoyed seeing people from all ages come together to work on the film.

“It was fun to be able to incorporate all ages and all availabilities,” she said.

“If people only had an hour, they could still participate. Six-year-olds can’t make a film but they can grab a camera and have fun shooting.”

September, it turns out, is a busy month in Old Crow.

The Porcupine caribou herd is passing through on its way to its wintering range, and residents such as Vickie Josie are busy hanging dry meat.

Josie captured this with her camera, and also filmed her dogs and her salmon cache.

“It really captures the coolness that is Old Crow,” Nielsen said of the grainy footage.

Edward Kyikavichik lent a hand at an opportune moment, just as filmmakers were lamenting they couldn’t find any local artists. Kyikavichik ended up documenting his mother’s beadwork and also helped out with the film processing, which took place in a rather improvised dark room.

“There we were in the women’s washroom at the John Tizya Centre, sitting in the dark, processing film and sharing stories,” Nielsen said.

Lisa Marr, who runs the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles, tried an experimental technique of developing film using only cranberries.

The fruit is a staple ingredient in Gwich’in kitchen recipes.

As long as you have something acidic, you can process film, Nielsen said.

Despite a few setbacks, it eventually worked.

“The idea is that you can work with the materials you have, wherever you are,” she said.

Instead of music for the soundtrack, residents were recorded in their native Gwich’in language.

Some are fluent while others are first-time speakers.

Nielsen said she especially enjoyed watching elders listen to the younger ones speak.

The film has already screened at the Tromso International Film Festival in Norway.

Nielsen hopes it’ll be picked up by the Montreal First People’s Festival in July and August, too.

“I think it captures a quality of Old Crow that feels very authentic,” she said.

Running from April 2-5, the 16th Dawson City International Film Festival is screening almost 100 films, most of them Canadian productions.

Suzanne Crocker’s award-winning documentary All The Time in The World, about spending nine months with her family in a remote cabin, is screening tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and again at 9:30 p.m.

Jim Robb’s Yukon, a 10-minute film about one of the territory’s most influential artists, will screen Friday at 7 p.m., part of the Yukon and Beyond series.

Aaron Floresco’s Fred Heads, a 15-minute documentary about iconic children’s performer Fred Penner, screens on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Sunday features an artists-in-residence screening and Q&A session with filmmakers Kyle Whitehead and Matthew Rankin at 3:30 p.m.

The festival closes out with a performance from the Lemon Bucket Orkestra at the Odd Fellows Ballroom at 9:30 p.m.

The full schedule for the 2015 DCISFF can be found at

Contact Myles Dolphin at