People and the Land

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Yukon Film Society’s Available Light Film Festival, highlighting an impressive array of more than 30 feature films ranging from documentaries to political thrillers to comedies, with a fiercely Canadian – and international – scope.

One of the overriding themes clearly apparent from a survey of the festival’s program is the relationship between the people and the land, in areas that are familiar to Yukoners, and indeed are often our neighbours.

People of a Feather is the festival’s opening film, directed by UBC professor and ecologist Dr. Joel Heath. It documents the environmental plight of the Inuit inhabitants of Sanikiluaq, a remote Belcher Islands community on the shores of southern Hudson Bay.

For centuries, the local people have relied on the eider duck as a backbone of their lifestyle and their economy. The feathers of this duck are the warmest known to man, and eider down has served both the duck and the wearers of Arctic parkas well for many years.

Now the bird’s habitat is threatened, as the proliferation of energy projects with their massive dams has modified the flow of ocean currents in the North.

Through the use of time-lapse and amazing underwater photography, Heath has captured the delicate ecology that sustains the region.

The result is a gripping documentary that was voted as Audience Choice for Best Environmental Film at the 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Another notable example of the interplay between people and land is Peace Out. A beautifully-shot documentary from BC director Charles Wilkinson, the film won the Most Popular Canadian Documentary award at last fall’s Vancouver festival.

In a fair and non-propagandizing fashion, it examines the trade-off between the increasing development of energy projects in BC’s Peace River Valley and the need to preserve its environment.

The Site C Dam project is perhaps the most glaring example of this conflict. An $8-billion proposed dam just outside of Fort St. John, it would flood 300,000 hectares of prime agricultural land and wildlife habitat, when and if it becomes operational in 2020.

Needless to say, there’s been opposition to the project on many fronts, which the film keenly explores.

Smokin‘ Fish is a debut documentary from Southeast Alaskan co-directors Cory Mann and Luke Griswold-Turgis.

It’s a reverent and humorous look at the cultural impetus that drives Mann to reclaim a vital part of his Tlingit heritage, as he takes a holiday from his artwork distribution business in Juneau.

Mann journeys to Klukwan, where he connects with elders who teach him the craft of smoking fish. Parts of the film were shot in Haines and Skagway in Alaska. Yukoners Marge Jackson and Martha Van Fleet appear in it.

Smokin‘ Fish screened on PBS stations throughout the US this past November, and won the Best Documentary award at the 2011 Montreal First Peoples’ Festival.

Dan Sokolowski lives in Dawson City, where he is the producer of the Dawson City International Short Film Festival. He directs Degrees North, a compelling blend of animation and live-action landscape photography.

Sokolowski’s camera travels from south to north, ranging from Pelee Island, Canada’s southernmost point, to the Yukon, with stops at the northern shore of Lake Superior and Alberta’s badlands.

Degrees North is a beautiful tribute to the vastness and the beauty of our land.

Directors Heath, Wilkinson, Mann and Sokolowski will all be in attendance at the festival, which runs from February 6 to 12 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

For the complete program, check out the festival’s website, at

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