The National Parks Project

The National Parks Project

The National Parks Project (2011). Directed by Louise Archambault, Keith Behrman and 11 others.

What a disappointment. Like most of the audience, I thought The National Parks Project was going to showcase 13 of Canada’s national parks with a homegrown soundtrack. Instead of a typical documentary, I felt like I was watching an experimental film from the 60s.

During the premiere at TIFF Lightbox, a handful of people walked out early. I was tempted to join them a couple of times but I stuck it out till the bitter end. It didn’t help that the old guy beside me was coughing, sneezing, sleeping and passing gas. Another senior down the the aisle was snoring, much to the amusement of the people in front of me. I can only imagine that they were desperately looking for something to entertain them.

The film is comprised of 13 short films by different directors. Each filmmaker spent five days with three musicians exploring a national park in each of the provinces and territories. The idea was for these artists to collaborate and capture their experience of the landscape. It sounds like a great idea on paper but it doesn’t work very well as a film.

How can you not create a stunning film to celebrate Park’s Canada’s centennial year? I think the problem is that each of the short films is a little too avant-garde. Scrap the heavy metal bass that drones on throughout Gros Morne or the grainy surveillance camera footage in Night Vision. And don’t get me started on the goldilocks-like character that passes out after eating some wafer cookies in Mystic Mornings.

I don’t want to sound like the crusty old man that blasted the filmmakers during the Q&A so I’ll try to say something positive. There are moments in the film when the experimental visuals are set aside for some landscape images that give you a true sense of the park environment. The footage of Mingan Archipelago National Park along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is stunning.

Some of the feedback on Twitter, immediately after the Hot Docs premiere conveys the sense of disappointment others experienced:

Twtr isn’t being kind to National Parks Project. Apparently half the audience left, the other half was asleep
#hotdocs national parks project epic doc fail. Felt like watching someone failing to know how to pick that low-hanging fruits
National Parks project is not a nature lover’s doc, unfortunately. Two hours, not a single money shot. Kept waiting for it. Too bad #hotdocs
National Parks Project is terrible. 20-30 walk outs. Self-absorbed outsider’s view of the parks. Shame.

British photographer David Noton recently said “for a landscape photographer Canada is heaven, but it’s such a vast country it’s difficult to know where to start.” It’s a shame that The National Parks Project didn’t have much in the way of voiceover narration, simple maps or stunning visuals to show how magnificent our national parks really are.

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The National Parks Project Website
Hot Docs

Posted in Hot Docs at 8:31 PM