A bowling alley in downtown Toronto might seem like a strange place to hold a press junket for a series of short films set in Canadian national parks, but on a rainy Tuesday morning at 11am in front of an empty bar, it is actually a lot more serene than one might think. Off to the side (in a booth far too big for just two people) in front of a window that displays such urban wildlife as Milestones, Indigo, and Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre, Ryan Noth is talking with the media about his latest wilderness based project. Noth, who directed and wrote last year’s independently made No Heart Feelings, is one of five producers of The National Parks Project, a series of 13 short films showcasing one of Canada’s national parks from each province that is showing as part of the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto this coming week. The concept of The National Parks project arose from a test short shot by Noth himself and evolved into a big screen experience made by thirteen different Canadian directors (including Toronto’s Daniel Cockburn and Project Grizzly director Peter Lynch), a Discovery Canada television and web series, and a soundtrack featuring contributions from 39 different musical artists. Ryan sat down with Criticize This! to talk about one of the most beautifully shot films of the festival.
Andrew Parker: What was the genesis of The National Parks Project and what drew you further into exploring Canada’s national parks? It seems like a massive undertaking.
Ryan Noth: Yeah, it’s true. (laughs) I wish that was something we knew when we started. I was in Banff at a TV festival, pitching a sitcom of all things, and I decided to camp because mainly I couldn’t afford a hotel. I met a Parks Canada person at one of the luncheons and he said, “You know, we’re always looking for new media projects and stuff to engage urban youth in a different way.” Not just to get them to come out to the park, but to make them more aware of the parks. So I talked to Joel (McConvey) and Geoff (Morrison), my two co-producers and said, “Well, what’s the coolest thing we can do with parks?” And we thought, let’s take our favourite musicians and filmmakers out to a park. We literally made these on recipe cards, four musicians, two filmmakers, and a budget. Then we started talking to Parks Canada for about three or four years. We did a test shoot in Gros Morne, Newfoundland with Peter Mettler, which was eye opening because there was me, Peter, and two other crew members and we got enough that I could cut together a 45 minute film out of it with no narration. Something very esoteric. And then it got accepted to film festivals where people started telling us how much they appreciated that it wasn’t “in your face” with the message of nature. It was just showing you and allowing you to go into that world. That gained us some traction, and the plan was always to do thirteen, one in each province, to bring more filmmakers out and it just kept evolving.
AP: It seems like Parks Canada was really receptive to the idea. What kinds of relationship did you have with them?
RN: They are unbelievably appreciative. You couldn’t ask for more engagement and lack of restrictions. They never once said we couldn’t do something or to change something. If every government office could work this culturally and creatively, the country would go through the roof. We were super appreciative that they let the filmmakers and the musicians just do what comes naturally.