Seeing the true north

Balanced view of tradition, innovation

Published: Jul 07 2016, 01:01:am

Sunday, June 29, 1986.

THERE IS A SENSE OF SHARING. In a land both beautiful and unforgiving, man must come to terms with nature's rhythms.
    It is the land of the Inuit as well as the fox, seal, polar bear and arctic hare. It is the land of the Dene, sik-sik, caribou and musk ox. It is The Emerging North: In Search of Balance.
    Alan Booth knows his Territories. Commissioned by the Northwest Territories to produce an official film for its Expo 86 pavilion, director Booth's Yellowknife Films created one of the finest movies on view at this world's fair.
    A northerner for the past 15 years, Booth says that the pavilion's planners wanted a picture that would "get to the heart of the subject, the spirit of the land . . . (They were) encouraging us to do what any filmmaker would just love to do."
    Together with his partner, screenwriter Lanny Cooke, Booth has produced an original, deeply involving portrait of territorial life, a place in which balances must be struck between tradition and innovation, between development and conservation, and between old and new.
    A snowmobile is seen gliding through the pine forest. In a clearing, its rider, a Dene hunter, dismounts, raises a rifle to his shoulder and fells a caribou.
    Booth cuts away from the final preparation of the kill to a green, glowing screen filled with Inuktitut graphic syllables. The camera pulls back to show us Inuit children working in their own language on a video display terminal.
    In retrospect, one is struck by the picture's lack of arctic clichés. Instead of igloo builders and DEW Line domes, Booth offers us glimpses of the Territories' multilingual legislative assembly and of children enjoying a summer's day at the beach.
    Contributing enormously to the feeling of authenticity is Patrick Ramsay's sound design, incorporating location recordings, and a musical score composed by Michael Conway Baker and Charles Wilkinson. The 10-minute movie opens with the unique sound of Inuit throat singers  and concludes with a Dene prayer song.
    Edited by Vancouver's Raymond Hall, The Emerging North shares with its audience a fully realized vision of the Northwest Territories.
     Says Booth: "This is where I live. "

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The Emerging North went on to be screened at a number of film festivals. Alan Booth's Yellowknife Films is still in business in 2016, continuing to produce its own films and to provide production services for other filmmakers working in the Northwest Territories. The city of Yellowknife will hold its ninth annual YK International Film Festival this year in late September.
    Someone else who knew his Territories was Manitoba-born artist Nicholas Burns. In the run-up to Expo 86, he was living in Rankin Inlet, where his wife worked as a doctor. Burns was a freelance graphic designer, and he taught art at the vocational school that later would become the Nunavut Arctic College. When a call went out from the Territorial government for distinctively northern products to be sold at its pavilion, he proposed a comic book. Given a green light, he wrote and illustrated Arctic Comics, a 44-page full-colour magazine that became one of the world's fair's most popular souvenirs.
    The book contained three different, ultimately connected stories. "Spring" was an adventure set in an Inuit past that predated European contact. "My Northern Summer Vacation" offered a look at a present-day [1986] American oil executive introducing his family to the source of their new wealth. "Stragglers" was a science-fiction story set in a dystopic 2014, a time when the high arctic is mankind's last refuge from totalitarian fanaticism. Some 60,000 copies of Arctic Comics were published and given away. In a cheerful footnote to the tale, artist Burns recently published a sequel to his Expo 86 success. On May 4, 2016, almost exactly 30 years from the Vancouver fair's May 2 opening day, a new, 88-page Arctic Comics was launched in Burns's current hometown, Winnipeg. The all-new book contains five stories, has hard covers and is priced at $17.99.

See also: The nine articles included in this, the second of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:

14: Expo 86 British Columbia
15: Expo 86 Canada/Washington State
16: Expo 86 Canada
17: Expo 86 California
18: Expo 86 Mexico/Cuba/USA