Documentary about traditional Dene voyage up for Canadian Screen Award

·3 min read
Indigenous elders, leaders and youth crafted the 40-foot boat from young spruce, willow sticks, moosehide and sinew by hand in 2018. (John Bingham/90th Parallel Productions - image credit)
Indigenous elders, leaders and youth crafted the 40-foot boat from young spruce, willow sticks, moosehide and sinew by hand in 2018. (John Bingham/90th Parallel Productions - image credit)

A documentary that follows a dozen Dene voyageurs tracing the path of their ancestors along the Nahanni River in a mooseskin boat is up for a Canadian Screen Award.

Kiarash Sadigh, the cinematographer for Nahanni: River of Forgiveness, is one of five nominees for best cinematography in a feature length documentary.

"I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of this production," said Sadigh, in a post on Facebook before the documentary premiered in August 2020.

"I camped for over a month inside the Nahanni National Park [Reserve] to film and document a group of Dene adventurers paddle close to 500 [kilometres] in a mooseskin boat."

The documentary, directed by filmmaker Geoff Bowie, follows the 2018 recreation of a traditional Dene voyage.

Lawrence Nayally, host of CBC Radio's Trail's End in Yellowknife, was invited to be part of the team by one of the project's organizers, former Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian.
Lawrence Nayally, host of CBC Radio's Trail's End in Yellowknife, was invited to be part of the team by one of the project's organizers, former Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian. (River of Forgiveness Productions Ltd.)

Indigenous elders, leaders and youth crafted the 40-foot boat from young spruce, willow sticks, moosehide and sinew by hand at a camp within the park. One of the project's organizers, former Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, invited Lawrence Nayally, host of CBC Radio's Trail's End in Yellowknife, to be part of the team.

Nayally has previously said taking part in something so powerful has always been a dream of his.

"The unity and harmony and peace and love and friendships that were made on [those journeys] was always something that I wanted," he said.

Combining traditional knowledge with modern technology, the boat was carried over the Virginia Falls, in the Nahanni National Park Reserve, by helicopter.
Combining traditional knowledge with modern technology, the boat was carried over the Virginia Falls, in the Nahanni National Park Reserve, by helicopter. (John Bingham/90th Parallel Productions)

According to Dehcho elders, it marks the first time in more than 100 years that a moosekin boat was paddled down the river. While the bulk of the film chronicles the group's journey downriver, a significant portion is also devoted to the painstaking work of building the boat that carries them.

The participants were guided in the process by Mountain Dene from further north, who still possess the traditional skills required for this labour-intensive boat building.

Bowie has previously said that as an observer on the trip, he was struck by the camaraderie and joyfulness the group brought to their often gruelling work.

"There's moments in the film — like one time they're trying to lift this really heavy hide up onto a pole and it falls down — that I could imagine myself saying, 'Jeez. This is terrible.' And they just instantly burst out laughing," Bowie said.

The winner of the best cinematography in a feature length documentary award will be announced May 17 on the first day of the Canadian Screen Awards. The awards will culminate in a main event on May 20 at 8 p.m. ET.

This year's awards will be streamed at www.academy.ca as well as the Canadian Academy Twitter and YouTube channels.