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Canada’s Documentary Essentials: ‘City of Gold’

Dirs. Colin Low, Wolf Koenig; 1957

Courtesy NFB


The Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s is one of the most startling stories in Canadian history, one of high drama and adventure played out in the gorgeous frozen landscape of the North. City of Gold, Colin Low and Wolf Koenig’s beautifully rendered documentary, captures the frenzy, cruelty and derring-do of this onslaught of 100,000 prospectors intent on striking it rich in the Yukon.

Having discovered a huge cache of over 20,000 negatives and photographs by turn-of-the-century studio-and-outdoor photographer Eric A. Hegg, the filmmakers decided to recreate the gold fever that struck the territory by using his photographs as the exclusive visual reference for the majority of the doc. Kroitor worked with British mathematician Brian Salt to create a system whereby every image was re-photographed, allowing each shot to appear to have been made by a hand-held film camera.

The result was astonishing: audiences were riveted by this intense evocation of the past, which was aided further by its colourful narration, written and voiced by the Yukon born and -raised Pierre Berton. City of Gold won the Canadian Film Award for film of the year and the Prix du documentaire for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a BAFTA and an Academy Award. More tellingly, the style of recreating history via archival photographs created by Kroitor and Low was a key influence on Ken Burns (The Civil War) who said that when he first saw City of Gold, “A light bulb went off in me.”

Read more POV picks for Canada’s Documentary Essentials!

Watch City of Gold below:

City of Gold, Wolf Koenig & Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada