While looking through the Vancouver International Film Festival program guide, I was very interested in seeing both Cry Rock and Mammalian. Ironically, I discovered they were screening together on Monday, October 11th. They both have similar themes — documentaries looking at the language, life, and culture of people in Canada’s Northern communities.

Cry Rock, a documentary at Vancouver International Film Festival

Cry Rock is a documentary about the dying language of Nuxalk, which has only a handful of speakers left in the small community of Bella Coola, BC.

Less than 15 Nuxalk language speakers and storytellers remain in Bella Coola, British Columbia. One of these elders is director Banchi Hanuse’s 80-year-old grandmother. Although she entered filmmaking in order to document Nuxalk stories for future generations, and technology now makes it easier than ever to do this, Hanuse finds herself resisting. Instead, she asks whether an electronic recording can capture the true meaning and value of these oral traditions and, more importantly, can it be considered cultural knowledge?

In concept, I was very interested in this documentary and unfortunately was left a little disappointed. I was hoping to learn about the traditions, the language, the culture, and most essentially why the language is dying. While the film touched on these subjects I really felt like most questions were left unanswered. Perhaps that was the point, perhaps I’m missing the storytelling and magical nature of the Nuxalk culture. But I just felt like it was more of a poetic film than a documentary. I suppose it was my expectations that led to my disappointment; I felt there was something left to be desired.

Although it makes me happy to hear, according to this News1130 article, that Clyde Tallio, the youngest Nuxalk speaker, said that “throughout the course of making it, and when the documentary aired in Bella Coola, a lot of change happened in the community. People started wanting to preserve our stories more.”

Mammalian: A Barrenland Odyssey

Mammalian: A Barrenlands Odyssey piqued my interest because Frank Wolf, the director,and his friend Taku planned to canoe from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. I thought this would be an interesting look at the climate, culture, and landscape .

The intrepid duo from Borealis (VIFF 2008) is at it again. Director Frank Wolf and travel companion Taku Hokoyama strike out on a 2,000 kilometre journey from Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet to explore the largest unbroken wilderness area in North America. With 40 pounds of food in their canoe, they brave uncooperative weather, unrelenting mosquitoes, painful blisters and forgotten birthdays to bring attention to the devastating effects that climate change and mining activity are having on this unique wilderness area.

The pair track caribou, musk ox, arctic wolves and moose, and talk to biologists, politicians, conservationists and First Nations Chiefs and elders in an effort to examine the issues that affect the people and the land. Stunning photography showcases the beauty of the area, while the sense of playfulness that pervades the film makes for an entertaining journey through this most precious and unfortunately, seriously threatened, landscape.


The documentary was funny and interesting, but let me down on the narrative side. The third-person shots were awesome, the magic-arm tripod shots were cool… generally all the cinematography was interesting. However, I expected a little more of “beginning, middle, end”. The 2,000 km journey was filmed and just meandered on and on. They met a few people, but it was admitted that they didn’t line-up interviews beforehand. I think my main reason for disappointment was the informative vs. informal structure of the documentary. I would have liked to learn more about the area, had commentary from more people. not necessarily from the land, but specialists or geographers, or something.

I don’t want to sound like I didn’t enjoy the film. There were funny parts and unique and interesting perspectives. But it was very much about the journey itself — with bugs, weather, terrain, and struggles. I thought by “exploring the largest unbroken wilderness area in North America” they would be examining it a bit deeper, in more of an intellectual way. I guess, in a similar way to Cry Rock, I just had different expectations.