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Dawson City: Frozen Time, pieces together the bizarre true history of a collection of some 500 films dating from 1910s - 1920s, which were lost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a sub-arctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory, in Dawson City, located about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Using these permafrost protected, rare silent films and newsreels, archival footage, interviews and historical photographs to tell the story, and accompanied by an enigmatic score by Sigur Rós collaborator and composer Alex Somers (Captain Fantastic), Dawson City: Frozen Time depicts a unique history of a Canadian gold rush town by chronicling the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation - and through that collection, how a First Nation hunting camp was transformed and displaced.Written by
This is a fascinating documentary that weaves together the story of the Klondike gold rush, the early history of silent cinema, the flammability of early celluloid film spools, and the mystery of the excavation of old reels in the site of a buried former swimming pool in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Dawson was the end of the line for hundreds of silent films that crossed North America. Once they were shown in the local theater, they just piled up in warehouses in Dawson. Most canisters were thrown in the river or burned in fires, but some got buried and miraculously preserved in an oxygen-free environment and were able to restored. Bill Morrison, who spent years painstakingly putting this film together made some key choices: he showed pieces of over 100 long-lost films, mostly without narration but with captions identifying each film and its year, along with a haunting soundtrack by musicians from the Icelandic band, Sigur Rós. The clips from the 1919 "Black Sox" World Series were especially interesting to me.
I had the opportunity to see the film at the National Gallery of Art, and Mr. Morrison was there to answer questions. He mentioned that in the cache that was unearthed there were pieces of over 500 films, although no full-length feature films. (Who knew there were that many silent films in circulation?) He said he chose to eschew narration, because, after all, these were silent films. Someone in the audience asked him if he had heard of a similar cache more recently found in New Zealand. He said he had, and explained that New Zealand was similar in that it was a terminus point in the globe for such movies as well. Thanks to Mr Morrison, and a little luck, this history has not been lost forever.
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