Still from "Nitrate Treasures" (Hudson's Bay Company Archives)
"Nitrate Treasures" is a trove of valuable visual history, but as put together by local filmmaker Kevin Nikkel, it’s also poetic. There’s something very moving about the way these images speak to us over the reach of time.
—Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer
Nitrate Treasures offers a new look at an old film, showing off 30 minutes of restored archival footage, mostly from the 1920 silent picture The Romance of the Far Fur Country. Shot in 1919 to mark the Hudson's Bay Company's
250th anniversary, that intrepid travelogue roamed from Labrador to
northern B.C., offering an evocative window onto life in Canada's north
in the early 20th century.
The film toured Canada in 1920 before heading to London, where it was put into storage. The rare collection, including the silent picture and 40 reels of film, was just recently been transferred back to HBC's archives in Winnipeg. The fact that the reels have survived, considering the fragile nature of the nitrate film base, is remarkable.
The history in these images is fascinating. We see fur trading at HBC posts - "The People's Providers," as it says on one of the company's signs - and everyday life in remote First Nations communities. We follow the crews as they navigate ice in northern seas, haul canoes through tricky portages and wait out days of snowed-in cold. "It's a great life if you don't weaken," comments one of the photographers in the film's inter-titles.
Nitrate Treasures is a trove of valuable visual history, but as put together by local filmmaker Kevin Nikkel, it's also poetic. There's something very moving about the way these images speak to us over the reach of time, a feeling that's underlined by Winnipeg musician Nathan Reimer's beautifully spare original score.
Finally, the story of the film itself -- being lost and found, repatriated and reborn -- is compelling. (Nikkel plans to make a documentary retracing the routes of the original film.)
Stay on for a presentation and Q&A session with historians, archivists and filmmakers.
Tonight's event at Cinematheque looks close to being sold out, but there will be additional screenings at the Archives of Manitoba, 200 Vaughan St., on February 22 and 29.