Dennis Allen, 2009, 2 min 12 s
Dennis Allen's feature-length documentary is about Fort McPherson, a Teetl'it Gwich'in community in the Northwest Territories, and its citizen-run radio station. A resilient expression of Aboriginal pride, CBQM serves a far-flung and loyal listenership – and plays the best damn country music in the Mackenzie Delta.
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 26, 2009
INUVIK - After the movie CBQM: The Biggest Little Radio Station in the North ended at the community centre on Friday evening, Ruth Wright got up from her seat with tears in her eyes.
"It was just gorgeous," she said. "It's real people. We know them. I'm darn proud of it because it captures the beautiful land and spirit of our people."
Inuvik filmmaker Dennis Allen shares a laugh with Neil Colin, one of his main characters in CBQM: The Biggest Little Radio Station in the North. Colin had no trouble charming Friday's community centre audience as he and Allen spoke to the crowd about being involved with the film. - Andrew Rankin/NNSL photo
"I can't have any dry fish or dry meat, but just wait boy," she said with a laugh.
She wasn't the only one moved by Inuvik filmmaker Dennis Allen's lively inside look at the extraordinary community radio station based in Fort McPherson.
Inuvik resident Karen Mitchell grew up in Fort McPherson and said the movie offered so much to be proud of.
"It gave me the sense of homeliness," she said. "It didn't just portray one aspect of our community and its people, it included the land, the spirituality, both on the land and of the church and the connection of younger and older generations."
The humorous, often hilarious film, centres on the radio station, which is essentially the heart of the community.
Against the backdrop of classic country western music, the film introduces a range of colourful characters who volunteer to keep the station going, such as a group of local old-time country musicians playing their hearts out in live performances. Then there's the hosts, like the good natured, red-headed constable who urges kids to stop egging home windows and the lively elderly woman, who politely asks drunk listeners not to call and just to enjoy the music.
While radio commentators talk and music plays, hosts are barraged by residents calling in to wish their neighbours luck with bingo or to report on ice break-up on the river.
The camera visits the places in the community where the radio is being heard whether it's the school or beside an elder at home doing bead work. Mixed in are plenty of striking images of the surrounding landscape.
Allen, who was born and raised in Inuvik, was on hand for the showing as he had been present for its world debut more than two months ago in Fort McPherson. After the crowd filed out of the venue, he said he was pleased by the support, although he stopped short of saying he was surprised.
"It's offers a sense of community," he said. "(there's) so many people feel fragmented from their community. After watching this film I think they feel a sense of belonging."
The accomplished Inuvialuit director and musician said for that reason he's been a fan of the station for a long time. A few years ago he got the idea to create the film while driving in his vehicle near Fort McPherson. At the time he heard a particularly funny announcer looking to be relieved from his post so he could feed his dogs.
"It was 5:30 and he said 'I want to go home and feed my dogs, somebody come and relieve me.' Five minutes later he would repeat himself and he was getting more and more desperate.
"He was saying, 'You always want someone on the radio station but no one is phoning.' It was innocent, but it was comical. I wanted to make a film capturing that humour. That was the moment that really inspired me."
Friday's screening was the movie's fifth public showing. It's already been screened in festivals in Calgary and Toronto and will be entered in a variety of other national and international film festivals. Allen said after that the movie will broadcast on some television stations and in about a year will be available on DVD.
The film took two-and-a-half years to make, comprising about 60 hours of shooting. He was allowed up close and personal access into residents' lives because, he said, for the most part they knew him and trusted him.
"I was born and raised in Inuvik," he said. "Fort McPherson is two hours away. I know everybody. I guess they trusted me that I was going to do the right thing. Some people weren't receptive. Most people just opened their doors."
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CBQM, a short documentary in which filmmaker Dennis Allen pays tribute to the "Moccasin Telegraph," won the Alanis Obomsawin Best Documentary Award, with a jury member saying, "Through accomplished storytelling, [Allen] has deftly captured the small, yet transformative, moments that make up human experience."
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Trailer for CBQM: The Biggest Little Radio Station in the North - on the NFB website
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