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Rating: 8 stars

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mubi Canada movie about movies gold rush silent film

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Seen on: 05/21/2020

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Dawson City: Frozen Time (2017)

Directed by Bill Morrison

Documentary | History

Most recently watched by sleestakk

Overview

The true history of a collection of some 500 films dating from 1910s to 1920s, which were lost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a sub-arctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory, in Dawson City, located about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Length 120 minutes

Actors

Bill Morrison | Kathy Jones-Gates | Michael Gates | Sam Kula | Bill O'Farrell | Chris 'Mad Dog' Russo

Viewing Notes

Incredible document detailing the discovery of lost silent films in a small gold rush town in the Yukon during the late 70s. It covers both the history of the town, Dawson City, and the early history of silent films in parallel using clips of the unearthed films to tell the narrative. Watching this really provides context on how and why so many early films have been lost forever. Dawson City was the last the point in the distribution chain so the studios didn’t want the films returned. So the theaters there (managed by the local bank) just stored the reels or tossed them into the Yukon river.

Many of the films in the 1978 recovery were considered lost because all other prints of them were destroyed. Because of the climate and permafrost and that they were buried in an old vacated swimming pool these films were preserved yet still suffered some water damage. There are many examples shown throughout this documentary. It’s all quite amazing to see plus get the history of the gold rush boom of this town. I was wondering how they also had so many pristine photographs of that time but that is also explained.

Interesting side note was how this small town was tied to Hollywood. For example Sid Grauman got his start in Dawson City and would later go on to create the Egyptian Theatre and Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. There are others as well. It’s so fascinating. If there was any downside to this doc it is somewhat chronological but jumps around a bit during those early years between 1900 and 1920. Also the film title info during the clips is very quick, still readable but you have to focus into that info immediately before it fades. (I started viewing this on my TV last night but finished on my phone during dinner so that didn’t really help in seeing all the film title info.)

I’d love to know where all these old silent films currently reside (I think a museum in Ontario?) and if they’ve been reproduced to digital b/c I’d love to view some of them.

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