Two Worlds, One Film Night

Thanks to the Yukon Film Society, Whitehorse has its own de facto repertory cinema, in the form of the once-monthly Fire Hall Films series, shown at The Old Fire Hall at the foot of Main Street.

This month’s offering is an entertaining double bill on Thursday, July 8, showcasing a unique look at a northern community radio station and a Coen Brothers comedy.

At 7 p.m., the feature is CBQM. Directed by former Inuvik filmmaker and now Whitehorse resident Dennis Allen, the film is a loving look at the town of Fort McPherson, NWT, and its community radio station CBQM, broadcasting at 690AM with a power of 40 watts to the tightly knit Inuvialuit/Gwitchin community two hours from Inuvik and 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

CBQM serves a vital function for its local listening audience of about 800 people. In many ways, it’s the glue that holds the community together.

Whether they be trappers out on the land, grandmothers sitting by the stove doing beadwork, fishermen going upriver or kids coming home from school, the station reaches out to its listeners in a way that few format-driven stations can or even care to.

In an era when local radio is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as it’s swallowed up by media conglomerates, Northern communities are perhaps one of its last bastions, as CBQM demonstrates so well.

Filmed over the course of two and a half years, Allen’s documentary takes us through the seasons of life in the North, from the day-long darkness of December and January, to the return of light as the land comes back to life in May.

Award-winning Whitehorse cinematographer Allan Code, the film’s director of photography, captures the rhythms of the town’s life beautifully, as we watch a procession of local residents who volunteer at the station inform and entertain the community.

We see people like Sue Oliver, the Anglican chaplain to the University of Alberta, who served as Fort McPherson’s pastor for three years, hosting her two-hour radio show entitled Heaven Help Me, where she’s as likely to be dispensing Christmas cookie recipes as advice distilled from her weekly sermons.

“If you want to know whose birthday it is, what time bingo starts or who’s gone out fishing or hunting, you listen to the radio station,” says Oliver.

We see the local RCMP constable with his own show, chiding local kids for egging the windows of the town’s elders, as well as on-air moose-calling contests and local down-home fiddlers.

The phone is constantly jangling, a testament to local involvement as listeners phone in requests or share community news. CBQM, an NFB production, has played to receptive audiences at film festivals across Canada, most recently winning the best documentary feature award at the 2009 ImagineNative film and media arts festival.

The Big Lebowski plays at 9 p.m. First released in 1998 to only moderate box-office success, it has gone on to become a cult-film classic for the Coen Brothers.

Featuring Oscar winner Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, described as “the laziest man in Los Angeles county”, the film regales us with a hilarious assortment of oddball characters who accompany Lebowski, who prefers to be known as “The Dude”, on his laid-back stroll through life.

An unemployed and indolent throwback to the stoner seventies, The Dude has few interests in life besides toking up all day, downing White Russians and bowling with his buddies Walter and Donnie.

Walter is a perpetually angry, near-psychotic militant Vietnam vet, played by the bombastic John Goodman, while Donnie, played by veteran character actor Steve Buscemi, is the dimwitted foil for the trio.

When The Dude becomes the victim of a home invasion by two thugs looking for money that’s owed to their pornographer boss by one on his starlets, it quickly becomes apparent to them that they’ve barged in on the wrong guy.

Despite the obvious mistaken identity, they avenge themselves on The Dude by urinating on his rug. He seeks compensation for damages by going to the Big Lebowski, a crippled millionaire, who entangles him in a plot to deliver ransom money to the thug’s boss, who has kidnapped the millionaire’s porn star wife.

It all gets very complicated in short order, but the real fun of The Big Lebowski is less in trying to follow its plot twists, than in enjoying the absurdities of its characters, a twisted array ranging from a trio of German nihilists with a ferret obsession, to a nymphomaniac performance artist, to a purple jumpsuit-clad pederast bowler named Jesus.

It’s a Coen Brothers tour de farce that’s sure to leave its audience bemused, befuddled and ultimately delighted.

CBQM plays at 7 p.m. and The Big Lebowski at 9 p.m. at The Old Fire Hall on Thursday, July 8.

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