NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT Directors: Zacharias Kunuk, Peter Lynch, Sturla Gunnarsson, Daniel Cockburn, et al. Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Maybe you can have too much of a good thing.
Excess seems to be the problem with the National Parks Project, a huge collaborative project made with dozens of Canadian musicians and filmmakers.
Made up of 13 short films, each based in one of Canada's majestic national parks in every province and territory, the film is an homage to the Great White North, involving exactly the sort of images this usually entails. You will see gob-smacking landscapes, lots of rushing water, soaring mountains, snow and ice and rocks and wildlife and trees. Some of it stands out; much more does not.
It is possible to see one-too-many close-ups of lichen, believe it or not. As the movie runs over two hours, it eventually becomes an endurance test.
The 13 segments have another life as a TV series, and it seems likely that in short bursts the work will fare better. There's just too much to look at and to listen to in this film form.
Each of the 13 films is a collaboration involving a filmmaker and a trio of musicians; the music was created and recorded in the parks themselves. (Parks Canada, by the way, turns 100 years old in 2011.)
The groups were put together with an eye to mixing it up and the general idea was to combine people who had never worked together before. The results, musically speaking, are uneven, but generally interesting.
Some of the highlights include the opening segment: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia, which is directed by Scott Smith and has Jim Guthrie, Sarah Harmer and Bry Webb (The Constantines) doing musical duty. Underwater shots of ocean vegetation and sea life are fantastic, the soundtrack (which involves nature sounds) is riveting and the general air of the thing is mysterious and mystical, at least to Ontario eyes. (It might be interesting to find out which films appeal to which Canadians.)
The short film set in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland (directed by Sturla Gunnarsson and featuring Melissa Auf der Maur, Jamie Fleming of Catl and Sam Shalabi), is magical to watch; the landscape in Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve in Quebec (directed by Catherine Martin) makes the segment riveting. Also noteworthy is the film set in the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, which was directed by documentary filmmaker Kevin McMahon and features Shad plus Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas (Besnard Lakes). The film captures haunting images of rock faces and a sense of isolation that seems particularly Canadian, and not unwelcome.
How one views The National Parks Project no doubt depends a lot upon the eye of the beholder. For this viewer, there is a familiar lone pine/boulder/waterfall combo of images that's very Canadian but a bit bleak, and that's how The National Parks Project felt overall: Nature big, you small. And so on.