After only a few days on the road, the ’92 Aerostar van’s northward climb from Edmonton was brought to an abrupt halt.
Highway 37 had been washed out.
“When you’re making a documentary about the environment changing, it’s hard to get mad,” said Drew McIntosh, a film artist and founder of the media production group The Sundial.
The film crew eventually made it up to Whitehorse and gave a presentation about its Up North project at the Arts Underground on Wednesday.
Aaron Bocanegra, a young art professor from Los Angeles, also participating in the project, ran through a slideshow of photos taken on the trip so far.
The third member of the group, writer Robert Lutener, stood by the sidelines as Bocanegra and McIntosh gave running commentary for the photos that flashed up on the screen behind them.
There was a photo of a gold mine and the polluted lakes nearby that glow a bright, unnatural turquoise.
One photograph presented the remains of yet another mine: rusted pieces of debris, scattered as if by an explosion.
The travellers later discovered that the piles of wreckage were caused by an unusually heavy winter snowfall and violent spring runoffs.
Roaring rivers, waterfalls and receding glaciers also graced the projector screen.
The group is travelling Canada’s North, from Edmonton to Inuvik, to find out how the Arctic region is changing and how that’s impacting lives.
The project was dreamed up by McIntosh who has watched Edmonton, his hometown, change drastically over recent years.
In May alone, 10,000 new people moved into the “City of Champions” to work in the oil industry.
“We live in a state of constant flux,” said McIntosh.
“We’d like to try to get a sense of it in another place — a place you don’t see everyday.”
“Everyday I hear something about the North,” he said later.
“But they don’t touch on the ecology; everyone just talks about the economy.”
Coming from Alberta, where former premier Ralph Klein once gave a protesting environmentalist the finger, McIntosh wanted to see what his neighbours to the north really thought of new pipelines and the changing climate.
For the 25-day trip he recruited his friend Lutener, also from Edmonton, and Bocanegra whom he befriended over a bottle of gin during his last project in Peru.
Two videos were run after the slideshow, one of a group of musicians playing an impromptu concert in Jasper, and another of their trip to see the Salmon Glacier.
Bocanegra edited the five-minute clips in their ’76 Trillium trailer/office while bouncing along the rugged road to Whitehorse.
This trip is the first time Bocanegra has ever seen a glacier. So far the team has seen four and will be visiting another in Atlin.
“I had heard some outlandish things before coming up here,” he said.
“I’ve learned that when travelling you can’t hang on to anything you thought you knew.”
Before heading north, Bocanegra’s friends tried to push him to bring a parka, despite what his Canadian friends had recommended.
While repacking in Edmonton during a 40-degree heat wave, McIntosh noticed that Bocanegra had brought a pair of long underwear.
“My father asked, ‘Are you going to go sledding, you know, with the dogs?’” said Bocanegra.
Changing misconceptions and seeing things for oneself are some of the projects main tenets.
So far they’ve seen many eye opening things.
They’ve driven through whole forests killed by the mountain pine beetle infestation.
The beetles have been allowed to thrive because of warmer-than-average winters.
Along the way the travellers came across a young man in an argyle sweater. He had run out of gas, yet the owners of a bus-sized RV, which was parked nearby, wouldn’t even answer his knocks at the door.
Whitehorse is only the beginning of the northern adventure.
They’ve informed First Nations communities and other towns along their route about their project.
They hope to visit with these people and hear what they have to say as they head towards Inuvik.
The documentary won’t be a Michael Moore-styled piece with voiceovers telling the viewer what to think, said McIntosh.
“We want to let the people and the images speak for themselves.”
Before leaving Edmonton, McIntosh received a number of e-mails from strangers excited about the project.
They expressed how happy and proud they were that someone was attempting such an endeavour.
“I wish I could see it,” many of the e-mails read.
“We want to bring these images back to people, maybe even inspire them to go see it for themselves.” said Bocanegra.
“We’d like to get people to think about ways they can live better,” said McIntosh, admitting that, by the nature of their project, they are contributing as well.
The group planned to show its film in Toronto’s Hot Docs documentary film festival, but liked the idea of debuting it at Dawson.
However, plans, like everything else, are always subject to change.
After the roadblock detour, the three were forced to turn the van around and head back to Stewart.
This gave them a chance to visit the Salmon glacier, something they would otherwise have missed.
Photos, videos, and blogs from the trip can be seen at http://thesundail.ca.