Screening in Fort Chip

Fort Chipewyan, January 27, 2012

After spending the day walking on frozen Lake Athabasca and visiting with Oliver Ganfield and Pam Gibot at the Fort Chipewyan Bicentennial Museum it was time for the screening of The Romance of the Far Fur Country at the Wood Buffalo Municipal Hall.

Talking to community members as they came in, it was sinking in that this footage was having its first screening in Fort Chip since it was shot almost 100 years ago. Following Filmmaker Kevin Nikkel’s introduction the lights went down and the 30 minute version of the film – the “highlights reel” – was projected on the screen. There were excited whispers from the 25 plus members of the audience as scenes of Fort MacMurray and particularly Fort Chip appeared. Dog teams running along the trail; a woman weaving porcupine quills; scenes of the community shot from Cherry Hill: these scenes and others were both drawing people in and bringing forth memories of times past and the changing present. One resonant scene was the footage of Alexandre Laviolette, making an impassioned speech that was accompanied by a caption explaining that the Chief of the Chipewyans was making it clear that by making a closed season on game the Treaty was not being kept.

When I first saw the footage in a viewing room in the National Film and Television Archives in London I knew that these images needed to make the journey back to northern Canada. It was an honour to be present for this screening, to see images from 1919 of Chipewyan trapper Baptiste Plat Cote with Pat Marcel, who was seeing pictures of his great uncle for the first time.

In the discussion after the film was done and the lights went on, we heard how the footage should be made accessible not only to people in the community but to all Canadians. Let the discussion and dialogue continue.

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