There are probably a sum total of 10 words uttered in the 127-minute documentary, The National Parks Project, which has its theatrical debut on Friday in Toronto. But so sumptuous was the landscape that the 52 contemporary artists recruited from across the country to collaborate on this project decided to let the inimitable beauty of nature - rock sculpture, whispering trees, a babbling brook - speak for itself.
Toronto filmmaker Peter Lynch ( Project Grizzly) directed one of the 13 vignettes that make up this omnibus documentary, which commemorates Parks Canada's centennial year. The 53-year-old says it was the earthy, organic nature of the project itself that inspired each director - independent of the others - to let the images and music speak alone.
Why did you choose Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park as your muse?
My wife's father grew up in Cardston, [40 kilometres west of the national park] And some of my interest came from my wife's family history. Her grandfather was a veterinarian in the region, and on an even more personal level, her father's ashes are scattered there, so there is a spiritual link.
What fascinated you most about this rugged, windswept park, known as the place where the Rocky Mountains meet the prairie?
I was intrigued by the way we impose boundaries. This region borders on the edge of Montana. I was also fascinated with the built-in narrative of a place that is thousands and thousands of years old. The Blackfoot were in that region for 10,000 years, but today we tend to think of our national parks as nice little postcards, with nice white people, who have nice camping gear. I wanted to go beneath that to explore the fact we're a speck on the landscape. Yet our imprint has managed to have a profound impact. This area used to be teeming with buffalo, but with the arrival of the white man, we exterminated that species. Not to mention, decimated the first-nations culture in the region.
The music that runs through your piece was written by Laura Barrett, Rollie (Cadence Weapon) Pemberton and Mark Hamilton. Did you give them any direction as to what the musical accompaniment would be?
I thought the best way to approach this was to step outside the realm of conventional documentary, and take a more creative cinematic approach, and explore a more poetic realm. This was a short, dense experience. We were only there for five days. Music allows you to explore ideas in a more poetic, non-linear way, particularly when you're looking at something old, with so many layers. I think, at one point, I had the Blackfoot speaking, but then I just reduced it to text and music, to leave it more open-ended and expressionistic.
Some of the footage looks quite wet. Did the weather co-operate?
It rained for the first number of days and it became quite hard to film because we were always cleaning the lens. The Blackfoot we met said you guys are complaining about the inconvenience of the rain, but we pray for it. It sustains the animals. It sustains the land. It sustains us. So the cinematographer and I went out in the rain for 12 hours. Once we started to embrace it, then things started to appear on the lens. All of a sudden the park presented itself, and we got inside the spirit of the place. So many people live in cities now, it's a very imaginative way to bring these beautiful locations into our imaginations.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
The National Parks Project opens May 20 at the Royal Cinema in Toronto (and is also airing on the digital TV channel Discovery World HD). Other artists include Zacharias Kunuk, Sturla Gunnarsson, Sarah Harmer and Sam Roberts. For more information: www.nationalparksproject.ca.