Here’s a movie recommendation: “The Great Kind Mystery.” It’s not in general circulation yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye open for. At least you can watch the trailer. (See link below)
It’s a lyrical 16-minute film shot in Super-8mm that follows the story of Amy Hull, a young Inuk and Mi’kmaw woman, and her stories of growing up in Daniel’s Harbour, Newfoundland. It’s produced with assistance from the National Film Board of Canada and the Ontario Arts Council
I had the pleasure of seeing the full “The Great Kind Mystery” on a private website. It’s been submitted to film competitions and arts organizations so it can’t be distributed until it has made the rounds.
Full disclosure: the film is produced and directed by Ella Morton, my daughter. I’ve written of Ella on these pages (See the post, Greenangel Choppers Circle Their Wagons from 2019), and she’s had many photo and videographic adventures since then.
Landscape in crisis
You could call Ella a landscape artist who works with cameras. Much of her work is about the degradation of nature due to the effects of climate change.
To depict this degradation, she uses techniques in the darkroom and treats her film even before venturing outside. Pre-soaking film in different acids, for example, yields distorted images and weird colour intrusions that suggest nature may be out of balance. They also hint at a particular mystery or spirit in the settings she photographs.
Ella works almost entirely with analogue film. She uses her mobile phone as well as anyone (including sharing loads of pictures of her cat, Kiki). Still, old-fashioned silver halide film is her preferred medium for her art.
So her cameras go with her on her expeditions. She’s spent lots of time in Scandinavia, Canada’s North, and the Antarctic, where the effects of global warming are dramatically evident.
One of her latest journeys was to Newfoundland (including St. Pierre and Miquelon). 1. She was chasing icebergs on this trip, the annual parade of ice chunks fallen off the arctic ice pack. Ella calls it the “Procession of Ghosts.”
Ella also took her analogue movie cameras to Daniel’s Harbour, where she filmed “The Great Kind Mystery.”
People of a certain age might remember grainy Super-8mm home movies from the 1960s and 70s. There is something ethereal about them. They show our younger selves moving through a roomful of relatives or old friends at Christmas time or frolicking on the beach or a swimming pool, with no sounds. The images are grainy, unevenly lit, and often out of focus. Our older selves, watching them, feel dissociated from our younger selves: there’s someone who’s died, another person we’d forgotten about. Watching these films can sometimes be strange, uplifting and moving all at the same time.
“My whole childhood rolled inland!”
Ella’s pictures of the narrator, Amy Hull, and her hometown of Daniel’s Harbour have that feeling. Yet Amy, in her early 20s, narrates her recollections in voice-over with grace and humour. She tells stories of growing up in the remote community, her grandparents and their ambitious vegetable garden, running along the boardwalk to the local beach. She describes a rock at the beach that she and her friends called “the Butt Rock.” One day, one of the “butt cheeks” fell away and rolled inland. “My god!” Amy laughs, “My whole childhood rolled inland.”
The land around Daniel’s Harbour feels like home to Amy. Only a few miles down the road, it does not.
The land ages naturally through the millennia, she says. But there are more recent changes that have happened in her lifetime. The ocean has crept inland, eroding the roadway into town, the fishery has closed and jobs have disappeared. The population has dwindled, and many of her friends and family have moved elsewhere. Daniel’s Harbour is isolated with sparse housing, some abandoned, along empty beaches and rocky terrain. Yet it is hauntingly beautiful, too, with towering rock faces, waterfalls and endless forest
“That which created us”
Amy’s allusions to the effect of climate change and declining population are like a looming ghost, a worrying presence. Yet her connection to the land is indomitable. She surrenders to it and explains what it means to her, even though change is quickening.
We often think of climate change in apocalyptic terms, like Category 5 hurricanes, wildfires that consume communities and woodlands, and melting ice caps that shock scientists.
The gradual changes, the ones that don’t grab headlines, can be just as devastating. Ella lets Amy speak in her own words, interspersing her monologue with Mi’kmaw language. The expression “Great Kind Mystery” is a translation of an expression, “kisulkw,” from one of her Elders, a “knowledge keeper.” It means “that which created us.”
Ella’s camera and film treatment give weight to Amy’s words, with distortions and dissolving images playing through the transitions. A haunting solo violin adds to the precarious sadness.
Finding a voice
I really think Ella has found her voice, telling these stories. Trailers for her other two films, “Kajanaqtuq” and “Deepest Darkness, Flaming Sun,” should be accessible on the same page as the trailer for this film.
“Kajanaqtuq,” filmed in Nunavut, can also be seen on CBC Gem at this link. It’s much like “The Great Kind Mystery” with moving voice-over narration by Inuk Elder, Naulaq LeDrew.
I’ll provide the link when the full version of “The Great Kind Mystery” is available for viewing.
I can’t wait for everyone to see “The Great Kind Mystery”! In the meantime, check out Ella’s website and follow her on Instagram @ellasharpmorton for pictures of her latest work.
NOTE: For a limited time, you can view “The Great Kind Mystery.” Ella has permitted me to provide the website and password to Happy Monk customers who purchase a loaf of bread this week. Let me know here if you’d like to see it. Order now before it’s too late 😀!
Cinnamon-Raisin bread, an enduring Happy Monk favourite. And here’s proof of Mildrith’s (the wood-fired oven) recent health check, as she just baked 41 loaves of this (and another 40 of Seed Feast) with lots of heat left to spare. Long live Mildrith and long live Cinnamon-Raisin bread!
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