Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison, 2016)

I learned a lot about Dawson City, Yukon while watching this. Heck, it was like a free history lesson. So many tidbits about the Gold Rush, the social life of its residents, and the population changes over the years made it worthwhile. But I didn’t go into it really wanting the history of Dawson City. I was far more interested in the trove of silent films that was discovered there in the 1970s. I wanted to know more about the kinds of films that were unearthed, the preservation process undertaken to keep them from disappearing again, and the impact this find has had on the film world. The film does an incredibly good job of contextualizing the reason why the films were buried in that old swimming pool/hockey rink, much as it does a good job of using clips from the films themselves to visualize the tale. Its thoroughness in that regard has answered all the “whys” of the piece without issue. There is even a coda explaining how they were carefully shipped off to Canada’s national archives, and a heavy emphasis on how combustible nitrate stock is. But Morrison doesn’t do much more than that. The film clips and their titles, presented as they are in that fragmented way, are all we end up knowing about them. The people that made them, their legacy, their importance—all afterthoughts left unexplored.

Maybe someday Morrison can return to this subject once more, and interview film historians about the Dawson City Film Find. Pay tribute to the long-forgotten by learning about the histories of those blotchy celluloid frames. His tribute to Dawson City and the resting places of these memories is done, and it’s done well. Make no mistake, you won’t get the visceral experience of revisiting Dawson City’s past from any old textbook. This is the city’s standing memorial. But there’s just so much more to be told. And I hope the telling has not ended here.