In 1919, a film crew set out on an epic journey across Canada’s North. Over the course of six months, their expedition traveled by icebreaker, canoe, and dog sled, capturing the Canadian fur trade in a silent feature documentary. The Romance of the Far Fur Country was released in 1920, two years before the legendary film Nanook of the North.
Rediscovering the documentary in a British archive, filmmaker Kevin Nikkel began a journey to resurrect the lost film, taking it to the communities where the film was originally shot. The result is the award winning feature documentary On the Trail of the Far Fur Country.
The film captures the descendants of the First Nations communities depicted in the 1919 footage watching the archival footage as they recognize faces, landscapes and lost traditions.
Ottawa Indie Fest recently spoke to Kevin Nikkel about the making of his film which screens at the ByTowne Cinema on May 24 at 6:25pm as part of the Lost Dominion Screening Collective’s series of film screenings.
How did you get involved in the making of this film?
As a filmmaker based in Winnipeg, I’ve done a series of documentaries for a local broadcaster on local history topics. I wanted to expand my scope to something national, and figured that approaching the topic of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was a good place to start.
Photo of Zale R. Dalen by Tim Johnson
I’m very surprised. I quite expected to be totally forgotten by now. Though I blush to say it, it seems that “Skip Tracer” is becoming Canada’s equivalent of “The Bicycle Thief”, an early film with historical value that few people have seen but which enjoys an amazing reputation”, replies director Zale R. Dalen when asked about the current interest in his film.
Set on the mean streets of Vancouver in the late 1970s, “Skip Tracer” is a free-wheeling private detective story with the twist that the detective is a loan agency’s debt collector hunting down ‘skips’ who have stopped repaying their loans.
Ottawa Indie Fest’s interview with Dalen continues in Part 2 about his first feature film which screens at the ByTowne Cinema on April 21st as part the Lost Dominion Collective Screenings on-going series of film screenings.
If you could remake Skip Tracer, what would you do differently if any and why?
After we released “Skip Tracer” I had any number of actual skip tracers and bill collectors talk to me, each with an amusing anecdote about their time in the business. For example, one man who was trying to collect for encyclopedias which, remember, were peddled door to door in those days, had the entire set dropped on him from the second floor window. Another told me about a “client”, furious at being harassed, who came into the office and cut off the manager’s necktie with a big knife, after which the manager took his file and threw it in the trash can.