The National Parks Project, a collaborative, multimedia artwork involving 42 filmmakers and musicians, marks 100 years of Parks Canada
With stunning footage of rain-saturated, red-clay beaches in P.E.I., decaying totem poles in the Pacific rainforest and snow-etched limestone cliffs in Nunavut, these 13 short works are a constant reminder of how vast and beautiful our country is. (It's a happy coincidence that this collection premieres at Winnipeg's Cinematheque on Canada Day.) But these aren't straight-up nature films.
The National Parks Project features 13 national parks, one in each province or territory. For each park, one filmmaker and three musicians were given five days in that natural environment to work, walk, camp, canoe and collaborate on a short film and its soundtrack. Filmmakers include Peter Lynch (The Grizzly Project and The Herd), Sturla Gunnarson (Such a Long Journey, Beowulf & Grendel) and Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat). The musical side is made up of such talents as Melissa Auf Der Maur, Sam Roberts and Winnipeg's own John K. Samson and Christine Fellows.
Some of the results are revelatory.
This project could be seen as a 21st-century, multimedia update of the Group of Seven's mission, which was to record our country's landscapes on paint and canvas. But while the Group preferred pure, pristine, unpopulated scenes, most of these contemporary artists are sensitive to the human presence in even the remotest places. Many of these short films are about how we interact with nature -- what we take away from it, but also what we bring to into it.
Many link natural and human history, in particular exploring the past - and the continuing presence - of Canada's First Peoples. Lynch's look at Waterton National Park in Alberta tracks the interconnections of the bison and the Blackfoot people.
Others deal with the ways our urban, accelerated, technological lives affect our experience of nature. Hubert Davis's film about Wapusk National Park on the western shores of Hudson Bay places mysterious human-made objects in the vastness of the barren lands, while Daniel Cockburn's vision of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula contrasts our palpable physical connections to the natural world with our increasingly disembodied, digital forms of communication.
These are experimental films, and some experiments work better than others. The weakest films can be a wee bit self-involved, but the best go beyond the pretty-picture travelogue format to investigate the complicated relationship between the human and the natural worlds.
Alison Gilmore, CBC Reviewer