Dawson City: Frozen Time


Alternate Cinema | 2016 | 120 minutes

Stranger Says:

Artist Bill Morrison performs another aesthetically astonishing excavation of cinema’s past, piecing together a strange history from some 500 nitrate-stock films that were buried in subarctic territory in the Yukon. What can’t be recovered, however, is the First Nations hunting camp that rampant gold prospecting effectively displaced. The birth of commercial cinema (large-scale projectors, movie theaters) becomes, in this bizarre but true tale of one of the 20th century’s casualties of manifest destiny, a death of ritual for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in tribe. (JAY KUEHNER)

SIFF Says:

Gold wasn’t the only thing found buried in the Yukon Territory. Dawson City: Frozen Time is a mesmerizing documentary that looks at how the Gold Rush at the end of the 19th century transformed a small First Nation fishing village into a boom-and-bust town, and does so thanks to a treasure trove of silent films that were discovered buried in an old swimming pool. Director Bill Morrison was the perfect person to bring this story to light. Famous for his 2002 film Decasia, which highlighted the beauty of decomposing silver nitrate films from the early days of silent cinema, here he not only tells the story of the town but also shows us films that were either shot or shown there. Along the way we get rare glimpses of the scandalous 1919 World Series, the hotel/bordello history of Donald Trump’s grandfather, and never-before-seen looks at this Gold Rush boomtown. Since Dawson City was at the end of the distribution line, it was cheaper for them to discard the films than send them back to the studios. With music by Sigur Ros collaborator Alex Somers, who also composed the music to Captain Fantastic (SIFF 2016), this is a gorgeous and evocative look at a fascinating period of frozen time.

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Film Credits
Bill Morrison
Kathy Jones-Gates, Michael Gates, Sam Kula
SIFF 2017