The National Parks Project

The National Parks Project
Friday, July 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Sunday, July 3, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque
100 Arthur St.

In 2010, 13 acclaimed Canadian directors created a series of beautifully photographed films interpreting the country’s national parks. Each work was created together with three musicians; the artists were all given five days in a national park, to collaborate on a film and soundtrack inspired by the environment.

Covering all of Canada’s provinces and territories, the collection highlights the diversity of this massive country’s landscape, from the lush mystery of the Pacific rainforest, to the fragile dunes of the Maritime coast, to the epic rivers and mountains of the Canadian north. In total, the project features the work of 52 artists.

Episode Guide

Looking Around Without Blinking
Filmmaker: Scott Smith
Musicians: Sarah Harmer, Jim Guthrie, Bry Webb

Wapusk
Filmmaker: Hubert Davis
Musicians: Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, Matt Mays

Standing Wave
Filmmaker: Kevin McMahon
Musicians: Shad, Olge Goreas & Jace Lasek

Kluane
Filmmaker: Louise Archambault
Musicians: Ian D’sa, Mishka Stein, Graham Van Pelt

Sirmilik
Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk
Musicians: Andrew Whiteman, Dean Stone, Tanya Tagaq

Gros Morne
Filmmaker: Sturla Gunnarsson
Musicians: Melissa Auf der Maur, Jamie Fleming, Sam Shalabi

Night Vision
Filmmaker: Stéphane Lafleur
Musicians: Mathieu Charbonneau, Andre Ethier, Becky Foon

Paahtomah Ksikimii
Filmmaker: Peter Lynch
Musicians: Laura Barrett, Rollie “Cadence Weapon” Pemberton, Mark Hamilton

Mystic Morning
Filmmaker: Jamie Travis
Musicians: Ohad Benchitrit, Don Kerr, Casey Mecija

Material
Filmmaker: Daniel Cockburn
Musicians: Christine Fellows, John K. Samson, Sandro Perri

Cape Breton
Filmmaker: Keith Behrman
Musicians: Tony Dekker, Daniela Gesundheit, Chris ‘Old Man’ Luedecke

Quand j’aurai vu les îles
Filmmaker: Catherine Martin
Musicians: Jennifer Castle, Sebastien Grainger, Dan Werb

The Stars and The Waves
Filmmaker: John Walker
Musicians: Dale Morningstar, Chad Ross and Sophie Trudeau

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From Uptown Magazine June 29, 2011

From far and wide, a landscape of wonderment
The National Parks Project is a grand celebration of our home and native land

What a truly awesome landscape we Canadians call home.

That sentiment is embodied in The National Parks Project, which dispatched teams of filmmakers and musicians to 13 national parks in every province and territory. The results are 13 short films strung together as a feature-length documentary, all showcasing new music recorded on location.

Commemorating the centennial of Parks Canada, founded in 1911, it’s an epic concept — and a near-marathon of a non-linear film. And it says much that so many of the participating filmmakers focused on the scenery above all: it’s as if the panoramas simply commanded it.

We get spectacular opening shots introducing Gwaii Haanas National Park in B.C., Mingan Archipelago National Reserve Park in Quebec and Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, but attention is also paid to smaller details, too. Like The Tree of Life, the doc celebrates the wonder of existence in images both simple and grand.

And we get no shortage of grandness. Vistas of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, the frozen Sirmilik National Park in Nunavut or the forested Gwaii Hanaas are almost primeval. Then there’s Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, home of the only known Viking settlements in North America. (The music made there, by Jamie Fleming, Sam Shalabi and Melissa Auf der Maur, is so ominous it could be a harbinger of the Vikings’ landing; Auf der Maur herself could pass for one, standing silhouetted with her hammer of a bass.)

Some chapters are visual wonders. There’s an awesome shot of a horizon in Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park, visualized as if an abstract expressionist painting. And for most of the journey through Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon Territory, the camera is flipped upside down.

Other visual strategies are less satisfying. Save for that one fantastic shot, we only get fleeting glimpses of the Prince Albert landscape, none of them distinguishing, while the trip to Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick plays as near bizarre, underselling the place itself.

Curiously, few filmmakers opted to focus on the musicians. The greatest standout to the contrary features Matt Mays, Sam Roberts and Kathleen Edwards in Wapusk National Park in Northern Manitoba; the chapter’s meta-narrative focuses on their actual creative process, conveying the exhilaration of creating something new.

What’s best, however, is when the cameras are turned on our great big corner of the planet. Ours is a realm that fires the imagination, whether we’re seeing the awesome handiwork of glaciers or rock formations seemingly transplanted from an alien world.

We also get a sense of the vast emptiness and quiet; the project pounds home how so much of our continent remains a wilderness. It’s the stuff of myth, Canada. This film prompts us to reflect on whether we’ve appreciated it enough.

– Kenton Smith

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From Uptown Magazine June 29, 2011

A crazy big beautiful thing
Winnipeg power couple John K. Samson and Christine Fellows discuss the adventure that has been The National Parks Project

When he first heard it, The Weakerthans’ frontman thought it was a fantastic idea that would never happen.

“The scope was incredibly ambitious,” says singer/songwriter John K. Samson of The National Parks Project, a sweeping film, music, television and new media collaboration. Featuring 52 Canadian musicians and filmmakers, the project focuses upon a sublime inspiration: our vast country’s national parks.

“And I’m not even an outdoorsy person,” chuckles Samson, who nonetheless found nature’s call irresistible — and found himself sent packing with wife and fellow musician Christine Fellows to Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park in Ontario, in August of last year.

There, the two were paired with singer/songwriter Sandro Perri and filmmaker Daniel Cockburn to capture their shared wilderness immersion in a short film and original soundtrack.
(Marooned in Manitoba’s Wapusk National Park were musicians Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards and Matt Mays; other teams were scattered to every province and territory from May to October, 2010.)

In cinematic form, the project has yielded 13 shorts being distributed theatrically as a feature documentary. It has already played festivals such as Hot Docs and SXSW, with screening runs in Toronto extended due to popular response. The program will play Winnipeg’s Cinematheque theatre the first week of July. (An interactive component is also now online.)

It wasn’t just the creative possibilities that convinced Samson to sign up, however.

“Really, I always wanted to be an outdoors person,” Samson laughs. Looking back, the recording of Ontario singer/songwriter Jim Bryson’s album The Falcon Lake Incident with The Weakerthans may have been a primer.

The appeal for Fellows was also mixed. “I was drawn to this project mainly because it was so well-conceived and collaborative,” she says.

“And because it scared me a little bit.”

That’s because the process of writing and recording songs was more or less made up as their party of artists and technicians trudged through the wilderness. Figuring out how to record outside may have been challenging but, thanks to the amazing crew, Fellows says they were able to stop literally anywhere, at any time, to do so. (They also recorded in an old rangers’ shack.)

And surprisingly, Fellows continues, “we got a lot of work done in those five days — far more than I would’ve ever hoped or imagined.”

The total output? Ten new songs, plus hours of footage.

This past spring, the project’s television element aired on Discovery World HD; the soundtrack was released May 24.

“We really wanted to celebrate the vast diversity of the Canadian landscape,” says Geoff Morrison of online magazine and film distribution portal FilmCAN.org, whose production arm was one of the project’s partners. “It’s so amazing to have such a wilderness at our disposal.”

So grand has the journey been, it’s hard for Samson to trace it back to the beginning. “It was… 2009, I think, when I was first approached,” he says after a moment’s thought.

“It really is the kind of thing that makes you lose track of time.

“It’s a crazy big beautiful thing that we made.”

– Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on June 23, 2011.

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