DVD Review of Gates Of The Arctic: Alaska’s Brooks Range
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 4/8/10
A number of months back I had done a review on the short film by nature filmmaker John Grabowska called Crown Of The Continent, which explores Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, in Alaska. I noted how it was a highly poetic film, offering viewers more of a visual essay (coupled with voice over narration and stunning photography). Gates of the Arctic: Alaska’s Brooks Range is an hour-long film directed by Rory Banyard, and as a film, is much more instructional and traditional when thinking of nature documentaries, yet while not as poetic, it is enjoyable and educational nonetheless.
My reason for addressing this point is just to distinguish the differences in approach, since both films can be via the Alaska Geographic Store. The Brooks Range is life above the artic circle. Yes, above. About sixty-five miles or so of rugged, mountainous terrain—the furthest point in North America one can think of, a place that is so far north that the Northern Lights are no longer “Northern,” but right above you.
The documentary dips into the lives of the local Nunamiuts and their once nomadic lives, detailing how their kids nowadays have things “so easy” as opposed to that of their own childhoods. There is even a scene where we see a grandson of one of the women playing with a small video game. Now, if that’s not adaptation into Western Civilization, I don’t know what is.
The people who live in this wilderness take on a separate sort of life than the one we are used to in “civilized society.” We hear the tale of a hunter and trapper, and how he is able to use all parts of the animal—from selling its skin to its skulls and teeth. Another woman speaks of having left her earlier life to seek refuge in the wild along side her husband. She has to heat water just so she can do the laundry, and remarks how much she loves washing clothes—this activity that takes her all day to do, and how this wildness has given both her and her husband time to not only think, but be. “You can’t buy time,” her husband remarks.
Later, a woman speaks about how often she eats caribou, and we witness a hole being drilled into the ice so fish can be caught and cooked. The fisherman comments how easy younger people have it today, and how much more time is spent in front of the television, rather than out hunting and trapping and watching the land. He believes this easy lifestyle can lead to poor health.
The DVD is filmed in high definition and there is a musical score by John Luther Adams, which accompanies the vast and mountainous landscape—mountains that one native notes is “too big for us to speak of.” We humans are small, in other words, and yet this land is here for our enjoyment, to use and to listen to. There are no sounds of humanity other than what already has been before us: the songs of the birds and the shifts in wind. And yes, there is lots of snow, and the winters are cold. Gardening season is very short (barely more than 2 months) and during the winter, one of the trappers admits to dreaming of salads.
The film is narrated by Glenn Close, and
has regularly appeared on PBS stations. It is a film worth taking an hour out
from your life to see. Bonus features not seen in the televised versions are
available on the DVD.
Information as far as how to order can be found here.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Examiner website.]
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