New documentary traces Alberta filmmaker's 'comical' canoe trip with 70-year-old dad

·3 min read
Alberta filmmaker Niobe Thompson's latest film follows a two-week canoe trip he took with his father, which he calls a
Alberta filmmaker Niobe Thompson's latest film follows a two-week canoe trip he took with his father, which he calls a

An award-winning Alberta filmmaker made a documentary all about a canoe trip with his father — and it's described as a comedy full of errors.

The film follows Niobe Thompson — creator of films Fast Horse, Vital Bonds and miniseries Equus: Story of the Horse — and his father Jamie Thompson, celebrating his 70th birthday on a homemade wooden canoe.

The documentary, titled The Long Today, is being featured at Calgary's 2021 virtual Third Action Film Festival, which celebrates aging in the third act of life.

Thompson said it was a personal documentary, but the story itself started decades ago when his dad first started investing in canoes.

"My dad played a special role in keeping the canoe-building tradition alive," he told The Homestretch on Friday.

aAron Munson
aAron Munson

The filmmaker said that when all the great canoe-building companies started using fiberglass instead of wood, his father began building his own.

"He shipped moulds back to Alberta after apprenticing with all the old masters and started building wood canvas canoes," he said.

"For at least 15 years, he was the only one in Canada building these canoes."

Thompson was raised in the northern Cree community of Wabasca, Alta., and said he grew up paddling in wooden canoes with his dad.

"When I realized he was about to turn 70 and I was searching for a way to process that, you know, my dad's getting older, it just seemed natural that we should do it with a canoe trip and with a film," he said.

Thompson makes science, nature and adventure documentaries. He said making films helps him process different emotions he's going through.

The adventure

The filmmaker said that despite the canoe trip taking place in northern Saskatchewan, the river was similar to ones in the mountains.

"We chose a river that we've kind of been looking at with some fear and trepidation for a long time. It's called the Wathaman river," he said.

He said to get there, you have to be flown to a very remote location.

aAron Munson
aAron Munson

From there, the filmmaker, his 70-year-old dad and a few others went on a two-week adventure — all in an antique canoe built in 1976.

"You see us basically swimming and wading this canoe down a lot of the rapids because it was so fragile," he said.

"And these rapids were are just endless sharp rock, low volume rapids that we couldn't run the canoe in a conventional way down."

He added that they actually weren't sure they were going to make it in their old canoe — but it's still floating to this day.

Making the film

Thompson said The Long Today was a passion project in between big commercial projects. Rather than utilizing a big crew, it was just him and a cameraman.

"There's no better place really to be in the moment than on a wilderness trip so, you know, this is a personal project. I wanted to capture a moment in time and my relationship with my dad."

Thompson said his dad was quite the "unvarnished character" and perfect for a documentary to follow.

"He's just himself having a great time and, you know, dealing with the challenges and joking and arguing," he said.

The film includes humour but also shows what people are capable of in their later years of life, said Thompson.

"It's also, you know, an honest portrayal of the limitations we face as we age," he said.

"I've noticed that audiences have really responded to that because that's a universal experience, whether you're a canoeist or not."

You can watch the documentary The Long Today at Calgary's 2021 virtual Third Action Film Festival on Saturday.

  • Watch the trailer for The Long Today below:

With files from The Homestretch.

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