By Lulu Keating's own estimation, this is her 22nd turn at the Atlantic Film Festival. "I was making pretty well a film a year and the festival came along just as I was starting to make films," says the director, "so I kept putting my films in and getting them in there."
Dawson Town Melted Down,/i>, her submission to this year's festival, is screening as part of the Atlantic Shorts program. In it, Keating takes the viewer on a tour of the intricacies of her adopted home town—Dawson City, Yukon—and the foibles of big-city arctic life.
Answering the phone in between emails and the end of her working day, Keating illuminates what her motives were for getting into filmmaking in the first place. "I really loved film," she says. "I felt it was a populist media. I thought I could reach a lot more people than making art that people would have to go to art galleries for. After art school, I went to Ryerson because I knew I wanted to go into film and after Ryerson I was tired of school. It was really in Halifax that really started my film education—just by doing."
Keating has a husky yet droll voice that turns every statement into a matter-of-fact quip. She's been awarded a lifetime membership by the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative, a recognition that means the phrase "local legend" is often attached to Keating's name in reference to her experimental, documentary or otherwise do-it-yourself filmmaking. Her body of work includes films on subjects such as her 10-sibling family (The Moody Brood) and her experiences volunteering in Zaire (The Midday Sun). Dawson Town Melted Down is similarly personal.
"We had a workshop that was happening here—a workshop called Process Cinema which was about shooting on 16mm film and processing right there in the dark room, and it was all about process as opposed to product," she says of some of the origins of her film. But Dawson Town is something of a statement, Keating explains, as to why she packed up and moved to Dawson in 2000.
"My sister was sick and I realized that she was too sick to come and visit—and she died, she died in July," she starts. "And when I realized she was too sick to come, I decided I would make an explanation as to why I am here and that's what I did, and I dedicated it to her, to Maureen. And when I was off shooting this footage, I was thinking about a film that would say why I was there."
Dawson Town gives a convincing account of off-beat arctic living. The narration is so dry that one wonders if maybe Keating moved there so she could make ironic observations about the place where "in summer, you can watch the sun never set," and where the liquor store is open Tuesday to Saturday instead of just closed on Sundays and Mondays.
"There is always something going on. You know, there are stone-carving workshops later in the month, there are gallery openings all the time because of artists' work that comes here. There is a combination, I guess, of outdoor life and art. There are things here that I would never do in another place, like knowing people who are very old and very young, and curling—which I have only done once before in my life but now I can join the curling club if I want to. There is a lot of variety."
Is it because Dawson is so isolated it encourages that variety in your social life?
"I think so. And also because it is so isolated it's encouraging and, for me, it enables the ability to be introspective and to be creative."
It sounds nice.
"The north is someplace, where you hear of people who go there and fall in love, and end up staying, and I guess this is to explain what it is about the place. Why live in a place with 1,300 people and 2,000 dogs?"
To have Keating describe it, it seems like a perfectly reasonable ratio.
Dawson Town Melted Down screens in Atlantic Shorts I, September 17 at Park Lane, 7pm, $11, 422-6965, atlanticfilm.com.
Hillary Titley is a writer who lives with a two-to-one human-to-cat ratio in Halifax.