(Photo via Kino Lorber)
Dawson City: Frozen Time, the new film from Bill Morrison, is a memorizing and almost dreamlike film into one of the craziest stories ever told. The story goes that nearly 500 silent films were discovered buried underneath an old subarctic swimming pool in Dawson City, located in the Yukon Territory (right next to Alaska and not too far from the Arctic). A group of film preservationists in Canada attempted to save these films, and it got the attention of Morrison, who decided to tell this story in a documentary narrative. But what makes Dawson City unique is how Morrison tells the story, which is almost entirely in archival footage and photos, with title cards appearing instead of a narration being played over the footage/photos. Add a haunting and beautiful score by Alex Somers to be the only audible sound you hear for most of the film, and you have a story about these films that not only tell the history of early Hollywood, but the history of this once prosperous gold mining town and the history of America.
I always love going into documentaries knowing little to nothing about the subject(s), and this film is no different for me. But what makes the documentary so fascinating is not just the footage itself (featuring films that many thought might’ve been lost in time forever), but the story of Dawson City itself. It was once one of the great gold mining towns in North America, and years and years went by and the population/economy begun to drop. early Hollywood titans like Sid Grauman and Alexander Pantages begun their starts in Dawson City because of the Klondike Gold Rush. Jack London, the legendary writer, lived in a log cabin for a winter, and so on. And while the Gold Rush ended and these historical figures moved on, they all got their starts in Dawson City.
Clocking in at around 2 hours, the film is a bit of a slow burner, but the story of Dawson City the hundreds of films that were dug up make this such a fascinating film to sit through. My eyes were glued to the screen from beginning to end, and it was agonizing for me to briefly step out of the theater to go to the restroom. Every little bit of information that’s presented to you in this film feels crucial to the bigger picture, and is a magnificent history lesson that never actually feels like a college lecture. Bill Morrison has made something really unique with Dawson City: Frozen Time, and it’s one of the very best films of 2017.
The film was released in New York and LA earlier this year, but the AFS Cinema here in Austin recently had a brief run with the film. Unfortunately there are no more screenings scheduled in the future for this film, but I hope you can get a hold of this film or find a screening of it real soon. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a documentary unlike any you’ve seen in recent memory, and features a brilliant Alex Somers score and has you think a little bit about the past (which much of it was underneath a tiny Yukon town), I think this might be up your alley.