To watch the film press the play arrow at the bottom left of the image above. Click on the box second from bottom right for a full screen view.
Cree Hunters Of Mistassini
Directed by Boyce Richardson and Tony Ianzelo, this is an anthropological documentary about a band of Cree hunters from Mistassini, Quebec who travel to live and hunt on their traditional hunting grounds.
It’s a sympathetic film made during a time when these people’s traditional lands were under threat from hydro-electric development and the associated infrastructure. It puts across the Cree point of view about their traditional way of life and philosophy.
For the student of northern forest bushcraft, this is a treasure-trove of techniques, skills and knowledge.
In almost every scene there is some nugget or take-away. As such it is one of my favourite films of its type.
In my opinion it’s one of the most useful bushcraft-related documentaries ever made.
“For the student of northern forest bushcraft, this is a treasure-trove of techniques, skills and knowledge.”Click to tweet
At the time of its release it was also more widely appreciated, winning Best Documentary Over 30 Minutes at the Canadian Film Awards as well as the Robert Flaherty Award for best one-off documentary from BAFTA.
When I see grainy black and white or sepia photographs of First Nations from the late 19th Century I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued by the people in those photographs, what their lives must have been like and the massive changes they were going through. But I view these in the same way I might view a photo from Victorian Britain. It’s an age long gone by, outside of living memory and increasingly unrecognisable compared to our own modern lives.
When I watch Cree Hunters Of Mistassini, however, it strikes me that this film was released in 1974, the year after I was born. The winter depicted is the winter of 1972/73 in which I was born.
So, unlike the grainy Victorian photographs, the way of life shown here in colour film was still happening within my lifetime. In that sense I feel connected with it, at least temporally. Yet it exhibits a skill-set and outlook on life which is increasingly alien to the vast majority of people living in the developed world.
I also feel a connection with this film due to my love of the northern – or boreal – forest. Whether it is snowshoeing and hot-tenting in the winter or canoeing in the summer, the boreal forest (also known as taiga) is a wonderful environment. As well as the sentimental value of reminding me of my trips there, this film has practical value as well in that it is pretty much a masterclass in many of the skills for that environment, whether in North America or Eurasia.
I’ve watched this film many times and on re-watching it, I still pick up on details I hadn’t consciously noted before. I probably watch it at least a couple of times per year, even now.
As well as all the practical elements this film contains, it also illustrates an attitude and productive industry required to actually live from the land and demanded of the people in the film. There is no messing around. They get on with things. They do things in straightforward ways devoid of the equipment/technology obsession of modern outdoor lifestyle marketing. The Cree people depicted in the film have basic kit and clothing, all solid and reliable, along with an understanding of their environment and the no-BS ingenuity to marry the two.
I often make the mistake of assuming that other people interested in bushcraft are familiar with many of the resources which are out there in the public domain. With respect to this film, however, I often discover that they haven’t seen it, or even heard of it. So, I’m sharing it here on my blog – something the National Film Board of Canada make easy – in the hope that more people can benefit from what it holds. Plus in writing this accompanying text I hope I’ve managed to describe why I think it’s such a valuable encapsulation of an aboriginal outlook and skill-set.
In the comments section below let me know what your favourite scene from this film is…