Dawson City: Frozen Time
Panorama | Art House Theatre Day
This extraordinary film is many things: it is a history of the settlement of what became known as Dawson City (though there were First Nations to be bumped from that place first), a history that is irrevocably linked to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-97. But it is also the story of how entrepreneurs mined the prospectors, setting up hotels, bordellos, casinos, and soon enough, picture houses for their entertainment. (Donald Trump's grandfather was one of these men.)
3000 km north of Vancouver, Dawson City was the end of the distribution line for silent feature films: it might take years for a movie to wind its way this far north, and by the time it played Dawson City no one was prepared to stump up to ship the prints back south, and they were put into storage instead, initially in an empty vault, then later, as landfill underneath an ice rink. Despite such disregard, the freezing tundra acted as a good preservative for highly unstable nitrate film stock, and decades later, Dawson City would turn up what film archivists would describe as the motherlode: over a thousand reels of film stock from the art form's earliest days, films that had been written off as lost forever.
Bill Morrison's enthralling documentary is not just an account of times past, but also an essay on the passing of time, and how the invention of first, photography, then, motion pictures, has changed our perception of history. The past-time known as moviegoing is a form of time traveling, and fragments from old films, lost and found, present us with vivid memories that predate our experience.
About Art House Theatre Day:
Now in year two, Art House Theatre Day celebrates the art house cinema and the cultural role it plays in a community. It is a day to recognize the year-round contributions of film and filmmakers, patrons, projectionists, and staff, and the brick and mortar theaters that are passionately dedicated to providing access to the best cinematic experience across North America.
"One would be hard-pressed to think of a film more haunting than Morrison’s chronicle of the discovery of nitrate prints on a construction site in the Yukon." Ela Bitencourt, Reverse Shot
"Thrilling... an aesthetic knockout crammed with wild tales, amazing facts and unconventional personalities, a documentary that's also a detective story, a history of a particular place that turns into an examination of an art form as well as a gloss on the political history of the 20th century." Kenneth Turan, LA Times
"An instantaneously recognizable masterpiece." Glenn Kenny, New York Times