Last weekend Dawson City was wrapped up in the 11th annual International Short Film Festival, and it was “an obliterating mind expander” to quote one of the writers on the Fest’s confessional blog (I’ll just confess here that I was too busy having my mind torqued and my martini-consumption levels tested to take time to comment on that blog’s amusing and honest posts – next year different, I promise).
I don’t like to have to choose “the best” of most things because how can you compare abstract vs. narrative films, or seeing an excellent screening vs. sharing a bottle of wine with a long-time friend who was in town for only .52 days, for example? The DCISFF had many films from the Yukon, including some great docs from Old Crow (a fly-in community in the northern Yukon) so ice did play a role in many films and some of the films wouldn’t have worked at all without ice. Here are two of my favorite films in the “ice essentials” category:
Ice as spiritual/mystical companion: Tungijuq: What We Eat (7 min, 2009, 35mm and HDcam)
As quoted from the IsumaTV website: Inuit jazz throat-singer Tanya Tagaq, and Cannes-winning filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, talk back to Brigitte Bardot and anti-sealhunting lobby on the eternal reality of hunting.
Selected for Sundance, Toronto International Film Festival, Best Short, imagineNATIVE Film Fest 2009.
Ice Cubicle obsession here: The protagonist morphs from wolf to caribou and onward (I don’t want to spoil it for you). The transformations carry a dreamlike quality because they’re often combined with a cut to white (or bright). The human/animal line is permeable in Tungijuq; by the time the protagonist swims under the ice, as in the press image above, co-directors co-directors Paul Raphaël and Félix Lajeunesse have created such a strong visual vocabulary that I would believe any transformation that comes next.
The generosity of this creative team is incredible – you can watch the film in its entirety on IsumaTV here.
Ice as identity-maker: Hockey Nomad
Mike Downie, Canada, 2004, Documentary, 52 minutes
From the DCISFF site: This Genie Award winning documentary follows Dave Bidini, a noted Canadian musician and hockey fan, as he travels the globe to unique locations in search of other die-hard hockey fans and the true spirit of the game. He makes his way to the desert of Dubai in the UAE where a beautifully maintained ice rink miraculously rises from the scorching red sands, then on to Romania’s famed Transylvania, where hockey first started in the 1920’s after one local caught sight of the game being played on a 10-second newsreel. The newsreel came from a place called Canada. Bidini ends his travels in Mongolia where the game is played in the open air in the shadow of a Buddhist temple and the first generation of players are still only in their thirties.
Ice Cubicle obsession here: This film contains some of the saddest and some of the most glamorous ice I’ve ever seen. The saddest was in Mongolia: the outdoor ice rink wouldn’t freeze on time because the players were unable to get city permission to use the water, so they had to flood it at night, making layers that just weren’t thick enough to overcome grasses and mud. The most glamorous was in Dubai, where the ice appears to be meticulously maintained beyond any Canadian expectations (and our expectations are high!).
In each country in the Hockey Nomad, ice hockey becomes a way to express cultural identity – something we lost once the NHL became a large-scale swapping game where players move between contracts instead of playing in the places where they formed their first loyalties with ice and blood and each other.
Bidini was an excellent addition to the festival, captivating many of us with stories about sports, travel, hockey, film, more hockey, the meaning of early Rheostatics songs (when asked), and more hockey. He spent some time on the local radio station on Sunday afternoon and joined the ice baseball game on Saturday (though it was cancelled since too many of us were indoors watching films).
I was expecting to be neutral-to-gently-amused by his film – I can handle hockey from time to time, but I don’t need it in my life – but Bidini’s natural ability to listen without judging, and to find a gentle laugh in so many situations, came through in The Hockey Nomad and I enjoyed it for its study of how a game can bring new friendships and new identities out of unlikely companions.