Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

The National Parks Project

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011 6:59 pm—Film

The National Parks Project (Canada 2011, Documentary), Writer: Joel McConvey; Directors: Various

A few months ago, I interviewed the creators and producers of The National Parks Project—Joel McConvey, Geoff Morrison and Ryan J. Noth—for my website KickassCanadians.ca. You can read the article (please do!) for more on the project’s genesis, but in a nutshell:

Last year, on the eve of Parks Canada’s centennial, these three wunderminds sent 13 crews of filmmakers and musicians to a national park in each of Canada’s provinces and territories. The artists recorded the sights and sounds that were experienced and inspired in the natural landscape, and their footage and audio was used to create 13 short films. Together, these shorts comprise the feature documentary The National Parks Project.

While catching up with Joel and Geoff this Canada Day weekend, I picked up a DVD of the film and watched it the first chance I got. I was mesmerized throughout almost every short. What a way to celebrate the nation’s 144th birthday!

Some aspects of the documentary surprised me. I knew the shorts were largely experimental and featured mostly music, ambient sound and park footage. I was expecting ethereal shots, breathtaking scenery and transcendent instrumentals, and there was all of that in abundance.

What I wasn’t expecting was the unique artistic slants taken for several of the shorts. Many incorporated effects, titles and voice-over, often to create a somewhat linear story. Some of the shorts I wouldn’t necessarily classify as documentaries per se, but rather as experimental fiction shot in national parks. (In particular, Quand j’aurai vu les îles, shot in Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec.) But I guess it depends on how strictly you define “documentary,” as almost every film has a story or slant, to some degree.

I won’t get into specifics on all 13 films, but suffice it to say that I very much liked almost every one, and loved three in particular: Night Vision, Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan; Sirmilik, Sirmilik National Park, Nunavut; and Kluane, Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon.

In Night Vision, you don’t see a great deal of the park, both because of the night vision shooting and because of the fact that what is shown are often close-up or abstract glimpses seen through the eyes of the young female narrator. But the film has a certain magic to it and ends with a lovely point about preserving the land (and the dream-like experience of visiting that land) without hammering the message home.

Sirmilik makes a similar point concerning climate change, but again, not throughout the entire piece and not with a heavy hand. I loved Sirmilik in the way it contrasts the stunning natural environment, both in close-up and landscape shots, with touches of civilization (e.g. polar bears spray-painted onto a corner store by the outskirts) and glimpses into the region’s culture, language and music.

Kluane makes it clear from the opening shot that it’s going to turn perspective on its head. It opens with an upside down tracking shot of the rocky terrain and frequently revisits that technique, along with jump cuts, fast motion, abstract imagery, underwater footage and spectacular landscapes, to create a moving still life of the unique and staggering beauty that is Yukon’s National Park.

That feat is something all the films collectively achieve. They take beautiful shots of the parks and bring them to life with motion, music and ingenuity, creating the most incredible album of moving portraits. The artists involved in The National Parks Project have empowered the parks with a voice, letting the landscapes do most of the talking. They’ve imbued each piece with their own flavour and ideas, but on the whole it’s the parks that shine through as the undeniable stars.

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I proudly dedicate this post to Joel, Geoff and Ryan. You’ve done a wonderful thing. Bravo!

For more on The National Parks Project and a full list of the filmmakers and musicians involved, please visit nationalparksproject.ca. The documentary is playing in Ottawa, Waterloo and Winnipeg this week. Click here for details on those and other screenings.

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