Northwords

Reviewed by: Julie Bélanger
Categories: Art - Culture - Travel

Northwords \ Geoff Morrison
Official trailer

Award-winning journalist Shelagh Rogers returns to Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador, known in Inuktitut as the “place of spirits” to lead a literary expedition. Director Geoff Morrison follows Rogers and contemporary Canadian authors, Joseph Boyden, Sarah Leavitt, Alissa York, Noah Richler and Rabindranath Maharaj, as they attempt to capture the “idea of the north” that has inspired many artists before them, including Glenn Gould and the Group of Seven.

The Torngats are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed billions of years ago by tectonic forces and glaciation. The authors immerse themselves in Inuit culture by exploring the rugged terrain, fishing and hunting for subsistence with the help of locals. While most would feel incredibly removed from their daily lives, it becomes clear that the Torngats are not only wilderness, but a homeland.

The fjord is seemingly untouched by human hands, yet the landscape is dotted with relics of human settlements. All that is left behind are the buildings of Moravian missionaries, as the Inuit leave “very little footprint.” One of the guides, Sophie Keelan, shows the group her childhood home further south in Hebron, which she and 300 families were forced to leave in 1959, provincial services cuts driving them further south.

The group finally gets a chance to reflect on their experiences during a heavy rain and windstorm as they take shelter in their tents. The authors are inspired by the beauty and profundity of their experiences, but are bewildered by trying to capture it all by pen. Rogers declares that the Torngats are “a place that’s almost impossible to capture in words, but compels you to try.”

The week-long adventure is filled with emotional moments and personal revelations. Maharaj suggests, “Maybe these are the places we come to resolve issues.” For his contribution, Maharaj resolves a conflict of one of his characters from a previous work. The five authors all approach their assignment differently, but they are all clearly overwhelmed and changed by the experience. York expresses, “My eyes aren’t big enough, my heart isn’t big enough to hold it all.”

Northwords offers a captivating look at how the unfamiliar affects the creative process. It also initiates a cultural exchange with hopes of mending relationships and building new friendships. It is certainly worth a watch for the stunning vistas of one of Canada’s newest National Parks alone.

Read CBC Books’ article for Rogers’ reflections one year after their Northwords journey. Experience the journey on the interactive website.

Northwords, directed by Geoff Morrison, Canada: filmCAN, 2012, 52 minutes

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Reviewer Information

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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