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Dawson City: Frozen Time (Sydney Underground Film Festival)

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Bill Morrison (Decasia) is a filmmaker whose experimental avant-garde work is often more at home in art galleries than in multiplexes. However, with his new film Dawson City: Frozen Time, Morrison has embraced a more conventional documentary style, and has made his most accessible, and arguably most moving film of his career.

The film begins in 1978 in Dawson City, a town on the Yukon river in the remote northwest of Canada. During the demolition of a building in the historic town centre, workers uncovered a treasure trove of lost film reels, which contained, amongst other things, rare footage of the infamous 1918 baseball world series, and numerous feature films that had long been thought to be lost forever. In order to demonstrate the significance of this find, Morrison takes us back to Dawson City’s founding and tells the story of the city, a history which is fascinating even without the connection to these lost films. However, Morrison also uses this history to tell a story about the early days of cinema, illustrating the revelatory effect that these films would have had on the audiences who once viewed them.

Set to a magnificent score by Alex Somers (known for his work with Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros), Morrison weaves together material from the lost films, together with archive photographs and other early film footage to tell the story of how these films survived decades buried in the ice.

However, while the story is both mesmerising and intriguing, what is most captivating about the film is Morrison’s ability to use ancient, decaying footage to conjure an emotional response, and to say something powerful about the nature of the passing of time. Dawson City: Frozen Time is truly an ode to the power of cinema, and deserves to be seen by film lovers everywhere.