Middle Row, Centre: Probing the Mystery of Whitehorse 911

Whitehorse, September 11, 2001. While a city was transfixed to TV screens that revealed the horror in New York City, its population could take consolation that the events were unfolding far away from them.

All that suddenly changed when local radio broke the news that a Korean Air Boeing 747 was being diverted from Alaska to Whitehorse, suspected of being hijacked.

It proved to be a false alarm. But for uncertain hours, as local schools were evacuated, commerce shut down and interceptor jets screamed overhead, the Yukon was suddenly part of a tense global drama originating far outside its borders.

What really happened? Why did the hijacking alarm go off? Local filmmaker Max Fraser thinks he has the answer to the puzzle.

“I’ve got details I’ve been bursting to reveal that nobody else has heard publicly,” says Fraser. “There’s quite a mystery around it, and I’ve got a lot of the mystery solved. Not 100 per cent, but as an independent filmmaker in Whitehorse, I can only take it so far.”

Fraser began the investigation in 2007 that has culminated in his film Never Happen Here: The Whitehorse 911 Story. Still in development, the result will be a one-hour feature which he hopes may go to broadcast next year, the tenth anniversary of 911.

Fraser’s filmmaking career began in 2005. After a number of years as a journalist, including a stint as editor of the Whitehorse Star, he branched out into publishing, producing the highly successful Lost Moose Catalogue.

After he and his partners sold the business he made his first video, Happy Birthday Pops, on the occasion of his father’s 90th birthday in 2005. Later that year, he accompanied his daughter on a battlefield tour of Europe to commemorate his father’s Second World War experience with the Canadian army in Italy.

“I borrowed a camera from a friend, and said – I’ll just make a video of the trip, how hard can it be? – so when I regained consciousness….”

He describes the resulting product, a 20-minute short titled Battlefield Tour 2006,as a big learning curve that whetted his appetite to do more film projects. After taking some editing courses through the Yukon Film Society, he embarked on a five-minute short, Painting Red Square.

The film’s origin stems from the days when left-leaning locals would gather on Friday afternoons at a specific corner of the old Taku Hotel that came to be known colloquially as Red Square.

When the Taku closed, the drinking and politicking shifted to the High Country Inn, where an actual red square came to be painted on the floor.

Over the course of some years, the square became well-worn and somewhat faded, and Fraser’s friend Del Young decided to touch it up.

Fraser filmed the painting of the square as Del recounted its honourable history (see What’s Up Yukon, December 3, 2009).

The film has gone on to be shown at various film festivals, including one in Tipperary, Ireland, the International Polar Year Film Festival, the Canadian Labour International Film Festival and the prestigious Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto in June 2009. It has also been added to the Hot Docs online library.

Fraser’s recent projects include Little John Country, a short introduction to the archeological work of anthropologist Norm Easton in the Beaver Creek area, which has uncovered the oldest human artifact found in Canada.

Another recent project features standup comic Al McLeod’s satiric portrayal of Jim From Dawson, who indulges in a rant about Whitehorse, its pretensions and big-city snobbishness. Painting Red Square, Little John Country and Jim From Dawsonare available as a stocking-stuffer package available at local bookstores.

Fraser is becoming a master at the art of telling a story well in a limited length of time, and we can probably look forward to more of his gentle humour and professionalism in the coming year.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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