Film as a mosaic in “Dawson City: Frozen Time”

⁣We tell stories that are worth sharing every single day. We do it in the form of a conversation at a dinner table, through a joke, a riddle, or even through news reports. But the best stories are told through an artistic medium such as film, music, theater, or literature. Those who practice storytelling for a living are often on the lookout for a good story to tell, and I believe no one could have told the story in “Dawson City: Frozen Time” better than Bill Morrison. The only other filmmaker that comes to mind is Guy Maddin, another Canadian filmmaker who likes to tell stories by piecing together footage from old film reels.

In “Dawson City: Frozen Time”, this technique has a hauntingly beautiful effect, because traditional documentary re-enactment has been replaced with footage from long lost silent films. Seeing all this lost footage for the first time will entrance viewers with the awe and wonder of the movies. The music by Alex Somers (a member of “Sigur Rós”) compliments the visuals perfectly. I was reminded of the iconic kissing montage in Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso”. Andrei Tarkovsky once famously claimed, “Film is a mosaic made of time.” These words never rang more true.

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” links two storylines. The first covers the gold rush of 1896, and how an estimated 100,000 prospectors flocked to the northern city in search of gold. The other story is that of film itself. Cellulose nitrate was first used as a base for photographic film rolls. The problem is, nitrate made it highly flammable, and as a result, a lot of film theaters went up in flames all over the world. It is estimated over 75% of all silent films were lost in fires.

When this started to happen in Dawson City, which was located at the end of the distribution line for silent films, the townspeople panicked and buried the film reels in a swimming pool. Almost seven decades later, the unearthing of silent films has rewritten the city’s historic significance. Once known for its gold, today it is immortalized in artefacts, films and photographs. Like the buried gold and the lost films, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a treasure waiting to be discovered.


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