Documentary - Completed 2016

The bizarre true history of a collection of 533 films dating from the 1910s to 1920s, which were lost in the permafrost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a sub-arctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory.

& Awards

BFI London FF 2016
Venice Film Festival 2016
Orizzonti Competition
New York Film Festival 2016
Spotlight on Documentary
Valdivia IFF 2016
International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017
Deep Focus: Cinema Regained
Goteborg IFF 2017
Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival 2017
    • Year of production
    • 2016
    • Genres
    • Documentary, Historical, Art - Culture
    • Countries
    • USA
    • Languages
    • Duration
    • 120 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Bill MORRISON
    • Writer(s)
    • Bill MORRISON
    • Producer(s)
    • Bill MORRISON (Hypnotic Pictures), Madeleine MOLYNEAUX (Picture Palace Pictures)
    • Synopsis
    • Dawson City: Frozen Time pieces together the bizarre true history of a collection of 533 films dating from 1910s - 1920s, which were lost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a sub-arctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory.

      Using these permafrost protected, rare silent films and newsreels, archival footage, interviews and historical photographs to tell the story, and accompanied by an enigmatic score by Sigur Rós collaborator and composer Alex Somers (Captain Fantastic), Dawson City: Frozen Time depicts a unique history of a Canadian gold rush town by chronicling the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation – and through that collection, how a First Nation hunting camp was transformed and displaced.

      “It is a story that is told, using these same films from the collection. It is both a cinema of mythology, and mythologizing of cinema. Gold and Silver, forever linked and following one another, drove the narrative in a unique chapter of human civilization.” (Bill Morrison)

      The story of the Dawson City film collection is a story that combines many contradictions specific to the 20th century. It is a story full of bitter ironies, where the promise of one thing often delivers just the opposite: First nation people had used the encampment at Tr'ochëk for hunting and fishing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. The Gold Rush brought change overnight. Tr'ochëk was renamed Dawson City in 1897, and boomed to a population of 40,000.
      The discovery of Gold promised quick and easy riches, yet spurred a hugely expensive, and physically demanding migration by the hopeful. Most of them arrived after all the mines had been already claimed. The prospectors then followed the gold strikes to Alaska, leaving Dawson City as a depleted and disillusioned town only a few years after gold was first discovered there. But as the prospectors left, motion pictures arrived. Not only did films finds their way to Dawson, Cinema took the North Woods as its subject matter, portraying this new landscape and its wilderness stories as one of its favorite, if most wildly romanticized, genres.
      The films that arrived were not returned to their distributors. Instead they were stored in a library, before being disposed of in a defunct swimming pool, ultimately returning the gold, and the silver that followed it, back to the same earth that yielded it. Despite this, subsequent shipments of nitrate films caused the fire that destroyed the theater decades later. Just as gold was the town’s making and undoing, film fueled both the theater’s creation and destruction. Ironically the only films that survived were those early ones that were buried in a subarctic swimming pool and then discovered 50 years later. Those films told the stories of an invasive culture that was woefully misplaced in its new environment, and even more woefully unaware of its trespasses.