Dawson City: Frozen Time
Directed by Bill Morrison
This meditation on cinema’s past from Decasia director Bill Morrison pieces together the bizarre true history of a long-lost collection of 533 nitrate film prints from the early 1900s. Discovered buried under the permafrost in a former Canadian Gold Rush town, their story conjures the forgotten ties between the fledgling film industry and Manifest Destiny in North America.
Located about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Dawson City was settled in 1896—the same year large-scale cinema projectors were invented—and became the center of the Klondike Gold Rush that brought 100,000 prospectors to the area. Soon after, the city became the final stop for a distribution chain that sent prints and newsreels to the Yukon. The films were seldom, if ever, returned. By the late 1920s, over 500,000 feet of film had accumulated in the basement of the local library. Much of it was eventually moved to the town’s hockey rink, where it was stacked and covered with boards and a layer of earth. The now-famous Dawson City Collection was uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation center was being built and a bulldozer working its way through a parking lot dug up a horde of film cans.
Morrison draws on these permafrost-protected, rare silent films and newsreels, pairing them with archival footage, interviews, historical photographs, and an enigmatic score by Sigur Rós collaborator and composer Alex Somers. Dawson City: Frozen Time depicts the unique history of this Canadian Gold Rush town by chronicling the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation.
"Critic's Pick! An instantaneously recognizable masterpiece."
"Wondrous, almost indescribable. A complete astonishment from beginning to end."
"Critic's Pick! An orgy for film geeks and history jonesers."
"Bill Morrison's Dawson City: Frozen Time is the best new movie in town and the best movie of the year thus far."
"A bona fide adventure through history, hopscotching across the turn of the 19th century."
"Astonishing. A testament to the potential of art to weather and endure the ravages of time."
"Morrison’s movies feel like half-remembered reveries formed from memories you can no longer consciously recall. Hovering at the intersection of reappropriation, preservation, history, music, and art, any one of his works will haunt you for the rest of your life. Dawson City: Frozen Time is no exception."
"Four stars! A ghost story like you’ve never seen. Riveting, thoughtful and very emotional."
Best Documentary – Boston Society of Film Critics
Most Innovative Documentary – Critics' Choice Documentary Awards
Best Editing – International Documentary Association
On over 75 lists of the best films of 2017, including: New York Times, New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, Film Comment, Slate, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Reader, Indiewire, RogerEbert.com, Rotten Tomatoes, POV Magazine, and Slant!