Paddling Film Fest a Roaring Success!

 February 14, 2017
Posted by ryoung
The Reel Paddling Film Festival’s tour of the NWT celebrated all manner of paddling sports and raised $2425 for grassroots paddling programs.

On February 11, 1886, the New York Times reported that “Canoeing on the water does not fairly begin until May, but a vast deal of delightful canoeing is now in progress on dry land.” It is no coincidence that 131 years later, to the day, canoe and kayak enthusiasts gathered at the Top Knight in Yellowknife for their own midwinter paddling reverie. They were drawn by the promise of films celebrating all manner of paddling sports.

The Yellowknife screening was the third of three stops that the Rapid Media Reel Paddling Film Festival made in the NWT this year. It travelled first to Fort Smith on January 27 and then to Inuvik on February 4. In each community, proceeds from ticket sales were given to local canoe and kayak clubs to support grassroots paddling programs. In total, $2425 was raised for the Fort Smith Paddling Club, the East Three Canoe Club, Camp Connections, and the Somba K’e Paddling Club. The film festival was co-presented by the NWT Recreation and Parks Association and WAMP (Western Arctic Moving Pictures).

This is not the first time the Reel Paddling Film Festival has touched down in Yellowknife. For a number of years the festival was brought here by Greg “Cominco” Loftus and Paddlers for Parts, a local non-profit that married a passion for organ and tissue donation with a love of paddling. Greg passed away last year. Amanda Mallon joined us on Saturday night to say a few words about her dear friend, “Greg would be so pleased that this Festival is back in Yellowknife. In fact, I am certain that he is here with us this evening, enjoying the films.”

Six films from the 2016 festival circuit were screened at each of the festival stops. The evening opened with Go Big or Go Home, a film about the annual migrations of freestyle kayakers in search of the perfect wave. From coastal British Columbia to Uganda to Northern Quebec, this film is all about big water and slick tricks.

The crowds at the Black Knight before the show started.

The crowds at the Black Knight before the show started.

The first of three films about paddling in northern places and an audience favourite was Kayaking the Aleutians. The film follows Justine Curgenven and Sarah Outen as they wend their way through the Aleutian Islands, an archipelago stretching between Russia and Alaska. Over the course of the 2500 kilometres, they encountered Aleut communities, strong winds, even stronger currents, and not a few sea lions. For Sarah, who had limited experience in a kayak before setting out, the pair’s arrival to Homer, Alaska, on day 101 of the trip officially marked her as a real kayaker.

The third film of the night was a tear jerker. In The Important Places, director Forest Woodward and his 70-year-old father embark on a 28-day rafting trip down the Colorado River. For the elder Woodward, it is an opportunity to return to a river he knew well as a young man. For Forest, it is an opportunity to better know his dad, but also to re-orient himself in his own life. The Important Places is a short and very sweet film about family, place, and finding your way.

The fourth film, Expedition Q, was introduced by Yellowknife resident Eric McNair-Landry. The film follows Eric, his sister, Sarah, and their respective partners (Katharine Breen and Eric Boomer) as they travelled by foot, ski, raft, and kayak from Qikiqtarjuaq to Cape Dorset on Baffin Island in Nunavut. In Pangnirtung, they exchanged their skis and rafts for traditional qajaqs (kayaks) they had made themselves at Inukshuk High School in Iqaluit. As Eric noted in his introduction, this was not a trip across untouched wilderness. The four travellers were following in the footsteps of Inuit who had travelled the same paths for millennia in crafts perfected long before contact with Europeans.

Still from Expedition Q.

Still from Expedition Q.

This was not the only local content for the evening. Tiffany Ayalik’s Sassy Pants video, which kicked off the Yellowknife stop, is a tongue-in-cheek introduction to throwing up a canoe starring one of the city’s coolest paddlers. The Somba K’e Paddling Club also submitted a beautifully shot film following a group of travellers as they journeyed by canoe down the Natla and Keele Rivers in the Mackenzie Mountains.

We rounded out the night with two longer films. Paddle for the North follows six mates and two dogs as they canoe through the Peel Watershed. The journey was an effort to understand the place in a deeper way, but also to further promote the Protect the Peel campaign, a coalition of First Nations in the Yukon and NWT, and environmental groups who are working to save the Watershed (an area the size of Scotland) from industrial development.

The evening concluded with Martin’s Boat. Martin Litton (1917-2014) was a pioneering dory guide in the Grand Canyon and a vocal opponent of hydroelectric development on the Colorado River. The film follows the maiden voyage of a dory built in his honour and named for a place that Martin helped to protect. It is a poignant picture of a man whose passion for a place saved it.

Almost 150 people attended Saturday evening’s screening of the Reel Paddling Film Festival, a number that far exceeded our expectations. Thank you to all of who you bought tickets and to the many local businesses and organizations that supported this event, including Overlander Sports, Old Town Paddle & Co., Arctic Tern, and Somba K’e Paddling Club. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, so much so that we just might have to turn this into an annual event. In the meantime, we hope the evening’s films inspired you to plan your own paddling adventures, large or small, for this coming summer.