Cinematic Gold is Struck in Trailer for ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’

Written by on May 27, 2017 

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In 1978, a construction crew breaking ground for a rec center found something completely unexpected buried under ice and debris in an old mining town in the Yukon: a cache of lost nitrate films from 1910s and 20s Hollywood.

Gold was discovered in Dawson City in 1896, leading to a gold rush that caused the town’s population to boom. Dawson City became the end of a film distribution line that sent prints of films and newsreels to the Yukon. More often than not, the films were never returned, and many of them were thought lost forever.

As the first trailer shows ahead of a release next month, Bill Morrison’s documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time digs into the story of the lost films, telling the story almost entirely through clips from the re-discovered films, as well as archival footage, interviews, historical photographs, all set to score by Sigur Rós collaborator and composer Alex Somers.

Watch the first trailer below.

This meditation on cinema’s past from Decasia director Bill Morrison pieces together the bizarre true history of a long-lost collection of 533 nitrate film prints from the early 1900s. Discovered buried under the permafrost in a former Canadian Gold Rush town, their story conjures the forgotten ties between the fledgling film industry and Manifest Destiny in North America.

Located about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Dawson City was settled in 1896—the same year large-scale cinema projectors were invented—and became the center of the Klondike Gold Rush that brought 100,000 prospectors to the area. Soon after, the city became the final stop for a distribution chain that sent prints and newsreels to the Yukon. The films were seldom, if ever, returned. By the late 1920s, over 500,000 feet of film had accumulated in the basement of the local library. Much of it was eventually moved to the town’s hockey rink, where it was stacked and covered with boards and a layer of earth. The now-famous Dawson City Collection was uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation center was being built and a bulldozer working its way through a parking lot dug up a horde of film cans.

Morrison draws on these permafrost-protected, rare silent films and newsreels, pairing them with archival footage, interviews, historical photographs, and an enigmatic score by Sigur Rós collaborator and composer Alex Somers. Dawson City: Frozen Time depicts the unique history of this Canadian Gold Rush town by chronicling the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation.

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Dawson City: Frozen Time opens June 9 at IFC Center in New York and June 16 at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles before expanding to more cities.


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