Review: ‘KONELĪNE: our land beautiful’

Aurora Borealis visible through power lines.
Courtesy Nettie Wild


KONELĪNE: our land beautiful
(Canada, 96 min.)
Dir. Nettie Wild

There’s a scene in Nettie Wild’s remarkable documentary KONELĪNE: our land beautiful that sums up the emotional tone of the film. Wild is following a woman, who is moving her pack of horses from one grazing land to another. It’s a tough task, across difficult terrain, but she’s clearly up for it. People have asked her, she says, what kind of survival gear she carries with her on journeys that seem to many of us southerners as being quite dangerous. Not to the woman Wild is filming. “I don’t survive out here,” she says. “I live out here.”

That’s the sentiment, which all of the people in KONELĪNE espouse, whether they speak it or not. Wild has crafted a film that is so stunningly beautiful that it might appear that all of her artistry and energy has been put into shooting lyrical scenes in one of the most gorgeous landscapes in Canada, the forests, mountains, rivers and lakes of northern British Columbia. And, indeed, kudos must go to Wild and her cinematographer Van Royko, whose previous documentary feature, Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon, was also a ravishing visual spectacle.

But KONELĪNE is far more than a feast for the eyes. In the hands of Wild, an expert storyteller, it is the people who live up north who truly should be celebrated. They are the ones, who can handle the hardships that the land can dish out along with its bounteous treasures. In a style that seems to be meandering but is actually cleverly crafted, she follows many interesting people—we would call them characters—in the beautiful land: owners of a diner; traditional and very modern hunters; line workers; ranchers; people working for a local mine and those opposed to it. Each of these Northerners lives life large in a territory that has its own rough magic.

The area where Wild spent most of the past five years shooting is Tahltan land. She knows their ways, which are contradictory and like everyone else in the film, doesn’t follow an obvious pattern. Elders are opposed to copper and gold mines that are destroying part of the land but younger men work there because they need the money. You can’t eat visual splendour. So while there is a blockade at one point and other protests taking place, Wild doesn’t immediate shift her focus towards those fighting the mine companies. Both perspectives are honoured by interviews and passages depicting their work. For Wild, who made her high critical reputation as a point-of-view radical documentarian, KONELĪNE shows something new, a mature even-handed vision of the world and how people live in it.

KONELĪNE is a wise, humanistic documentary. It’s a tone poem to a beautiful land and the amazing characters who live in it. KONELĪNE deservedly won the Best Canadian Feature Award at Hot Docs. I urge you to see this film.

KONELĪNE: our land beautiful opens in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on June 10.

Read more about KONELĪNE: our land beautiful in this feature from POV #101!