The National Parks Project

The National Parks Project
Inspired partially by the artistic works of the Group of Seven, whose impressionistic images of Algonquin Park captured pristine Canadian landscapes, this collaborative documentary brings together 13 filmmakers (one for each province and territory) and pairs them with three musicians each to explore various national parks cinematically and musically.

The National Parks Project is an ambitious endeavour, spearheaded by Waterlife director Kevin McMahon, airing in 13-parts on Discovery World HD, which understandably has its highs and lows, likely working better as a cohesive film for an audience under the influence of narcotics.

Each filmmaker takes a slightly different approach to the task, ranging from an arty wilderness music video aesthetic to a pretentious environmental plea to visual tapestries and graphic matches. For example, the Newfoundland (Gros Morne) segment literally just features Melissa Auf der Maur, Jamie Fleming and Sam Shalabi jamming on a beach for ten minutes, while the Quebec (Archipelago) segment uses music only in a non-diegetic sense, blending images of rocks, forests, water and wildlife into a visually stunning ode to reminiscence.

And where certain short films succeed in blending their elements, like the New Brunswick (Kouchibouguac) segment, with a building crescendo of sound from Ohad Benchetrit, Don Kerr and Casey Mecija, or the Northwest Territories (Nahanni) film with Shad, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas playing over gorgeous, wonderfully juxtaposed images, others fall flat.

The Alberta short is the worst, featuring on-screen dialogue like, "If the land could speak, it would speak Blackfoot" while images of dead birds and animal skulls spinning on turntables generate unintended laughter, much like the Ontario (Bruce Peninsula) section, which features some tool asking, "what's, like, the, like, materiality of, like, an email." To boot, they link a dying wilderness with the cold sterility of internet cookies and passwords, which could be floating out in the spirit of a tree. Seriously.

As a cohesive experience, this project never works, having a mixture of hits and misses for over two hours, with only geographic imagery to propel it forward. It is a curious and occasionally moving work though, linking art with the environment in such a way that only partially aggravates, which is definitely something. (FilmCan)