A Canadian Family in the Big Woods

 

Concerning one of OFF’s featured films in the 2016 Festival: “All the Time in the World: Disconnecting to Reconnect.” Dir. Suzanne Crocker. 2014. 89 mins. Color documentary produced with the Participation of Telefilm Canada, Canada Media Fund and the Yukon Film and Sound Commission.

 

 

Here is a film that my 3 and 5-year-old grandchildren enjoyed as much as I did. We’re not talking “Inside Out,” which also appeals across the generations. “All the Time in the World: Disconnecting to Reconnect”, as the title implies, is no animated, big bucks, mass-marketed production.

 

Although both films follow a family move and the challenges it brings, young Riley in “Inside Out” is moving from one city to another, and the adventures of her personifi

ed emotions are surrealistic and cybernetic. The kids in this Canadian documentary are “disconnecting” from a city like Dawson in the Yukon and going to live for nine months in the Yukon bush.

 

 

I think what held my grandkids’ interest was the full inclusion of the children in this family adventure—we see and hear from Sam (10), Kate (8), and Tess (4) as they pick berries, make bread, create games, chop wood, chip ice, and fetch water.  We hear them singing as they walk in the woods, we see them all sleeping together with their parents on one big mattress on the cabin floor (along with the dog and two cats.) There is drama when the four year old is missing in the woods and when the bear comes snooping around.

 

Suzanne Crocker, who left her city job as a medical doctor to be a full time mom (and writer/director/cinematographer of this film) in a cabin way, way off the grid and up a wild river, delivers beautiful nature sequences—the moon over a frozen river and snowy conifers; and intimate interior scenes: frost on the windows at 50 below zero, a single candle burning on the table.

 

An acoustic guitar (lots of credit to composer and guitarist Alex Houghton) helps us relax into the story of how this Canadian Family Robinson leaves the jobs and the schools and the screens and cars and clubs behind and starts chopping wood, digging an outhouse, and building a formidable log tower to secure their supplies from bears.

 

The structure of the narrative is organic—this is a film that is all about how to cheat our usual experience of time. I’d say it’s a kind of warm pastoral—where the point of the family’s retreat into the wilderness is to get away from the regulation of hours at a job or a school and into a place where time is a matter of one season gradually changing into another: they made a conscious decision not to bring any clocks or watches. (They also don’t eat meat and only brought a shotgun as a last resort against bears.)

 

“I always felt that there wasn’t enough time for the things that really counted,” says the filmmaker/ mom in the opening sequence. We see an analog clock with hands speeded up and loud ticking noises; a child says that in their city home, “we didn’t really have much contact with each other”; we hear the dad say “You’re expected to be a cog in the wheel.” So then one day he asked, “Would you kids like to go to the bush?”

 

The viewer is taken along with the family. We have substantial sequences with no music, only diegetic sounds of water, birds, and wind in the trees, as the camera functions as our own eyes in the prow of a canoe or looking into an open fire.

 

Snow starts at the end of September and in deep winter, everything slows down and the skies darken. “This was the time when we couldn’t go back,” says one of the children.” As winter locks down and they cannot easily move about, the Mom wonders if they went into a hibernation mode.

 

Every night they read aloud to one another—a favorite was “Little House on the Prairie.” No wonder! The children wrote some poems for their parents, and Kate recites one she titled “Nature”: “The tap of the woodpecker, the beat of the wings / That is what the forest does say. / You talk about cities that tick tock all day— / That is what cities do say. / You must admit the forest is smart / But cities don’t take it to their heart. / Nature doesn’t need us to stay alive / But we need nature to survive.”

 

They don’t mention Henry David Thoreau, but their experiment has quite a bit in common with his attempt to “live deliberately” in the not so wild woods next to Walden Pond. But while some think Thoreau was definitely not a “people person,” this family is all about togetherness and intimacy. It made me wonder what kind of a “Walden” Thoreau might have written if he had been married with three creative kids who would help him plant his beans and measure the depth of the water in the pond and sleep beside him on the cabin floor.

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