Cozied up next to the northern tip of Great Slave Lake sits a little city like no other. Small in size with insurmountable tenacity, Yellowknife is a beautifully archaic mash up of metropolis and off the grid living. Growing up, I figured that was the image that was meant to come to mind when the lines “True North, Strong and Free” were belted out every morning over the intercom during the playing of our national anthem. What a place.
It is a city with a bustling arts and film community. The movers and shakers up there work themselves to the bone creating an industry where there wasn’t one before. This year was one of great recognition for them as it marked the 10 year anniversary of the Yellowknife International Film Fest.
In the last six months, I have twice had the pleasure of heading home to Yellowknife to volunteer for these fine folks as a way of supporting their efforts. It was time well spent.
My most recent venture north was to offer my assistance with their Dead North Film-making Festival. This is a unique incentive that supports local film makers while inviting artists from the south to explore Canada’s North as a venue for creating and displaying their works.
I landed home at 12:30 in the morning on Friday February 24th, 5 hours after the festival kicked into gear. From Thursday the 23rd through Sunday the 26th, horror shorts created in Canada’s coldest climate were aired at the Capital Theatre. Local musicians were showcased nightly and artist collectives work together to create unique and vibrant spaces for late night events to be held at. Q&A’s were held during the day alongside workshops, giving those who traveled up to the festival opportunities to chat with other film makers and pick up a few tricks and tips. An awards gala was held, this year live-screened for anyone who wasn’t able to attend and I assure you, the feeling of communal support and congratulations was palpable as epic trophies were handed out for different notes of excellence.
In the dead of winter, there is an undeniable warmth that this incentive brings to the community: this is where much of my desire to give back to these groups is bread from. Yellowknife is a wonderfully unique city, a diamond in the rough - indeed. But it is far from reach. If you stretch your hands high enough north on the map, you might tickle the water that reaches its shores. It can be expensive to get there and expensive to leave. For many, and for large chunks of my psyche, this solitude is sanctuary.
Getting through the long winters, though, requires a subtle connection to a community, a tribe of sorts or something to look forward to. The cold and dark can be a sobering experience for some. With these things in mind, it becomes clear that the individuals who run the northern art and film incentives up in Yellowknife aren’t only building an industry, they are providing outlets and community engagement in an environment that so benefits from these types of activities. They are getting people out of their houses in the dead of winter to assist one another in creating works of art.
I have often said that I feel blessed to have been raised in the North. I can assure you, I feel an even greater sense of respect and gratitude returning to that environment as, oh what do they call it… right. An adult. A part of my heart will always graze the lands I grew up in and with it, a massive amount of respect for the artists and collectives who are diligently poking holes in the dark so that the northern lights might shine through with more ease.
A Special Shout out goest out to:
Western Arctic Moving Pictures, Artless Collective, the Dead North Film Festival and the the following five individuals who made it possible for me to leave work for 2 days to go home and volunteer: Jennifer Clement, Darren Borrowman, Kim Tough, Kris Neufeld and Andres Soto.