________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 18 . . . . May 10, 2002

cover Waterwalker.

Bill Mason (Director & Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1984.
86 min., 38 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C0184 024.

Subject Heading:
Mason, Bill, 1929-1988.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**** /4

Waterwalker is the last film made by the Canadian legendary artist, film maker, environmentalist, canoeist and writer, Bill Mason. Filmed in 1984, it is a tribute to the Canadian landscape, the First Nations, the canoe and to Bill Mason himself. It stands the test of time as an important documentary for Canadians to treasure and use as they plot the future of the Canadian wilderness.

     The focus of the documentary is the canoe, the amazing watercraft that walks on water. Mason expertly pilots his old trusty canoe through a jaw-dropping variety of situations, from calm, windless days on the shores of Lake Superior, through giant waves that can and do swamp him, over treacherous rapids that batter his boat and test his mettle at every stroke. It is Mason's lifelong romance with and knowledge of the canoe that carry him successfully through every situation. Although he also worked as a commercial artist and an animator, he spent as much time as possible out in the wilderness, frequently alone to ponder and paint. His method of transportation was always the canoe, and he took little else with him.

      "This love or passion for canoes that some people have isn't something that you can explain. I'm not sure that you can be born with it but as far back as I can remember I was fascinated with canoes. They flunked me in grade one because all I could do is draw pictures and make models of canoes. They thought I was a slow learner but I figured that I didn't need all that other stuff that they were trying to teach me because I knew what I was going to be... I was going to be a canoeist."

     Mason's work ethic was prodigious. His planning before he embarked was meticulous. Once in the field, he sometimes travelled 18 hours a day. As the writer, director and producer of his own films, he scaled peaks to get single shot and repeated his shooting until he was satisfied. He wrote and recorded his experiences and spent hours painting a scene with a palette knife, only to destroy the picture over and over because he was obsessed with "getting it right." It was in the wilderness that he was happiest.

      "All of my life people have been telling me that you should never travel alone..... but it's interesting. I've never been told that by anyone who's ever done it."

     Mason began making films in 1962 with Paddle to the Sea. He made a total of 11 films and wrote three books as well as painted until his death in 1988. His work was recognized internationally and is still held in high esteem by environmentalists and wilderness afficionados. In Waterwalker, Mason describes the beauty of the natural surroundings as he explores the shoreline of Lake Superior and makes his way up the difficult river system feeding the lake to its source. He pays tribute to the Aboriginal people who lived in harmony with nature, using it, but respecting it without despoiling it. He talks about his canoe and its value to him and to the native people over the centuries.

     And he relates his passion for painting. The viewer is treated to some magnificent scenes of Mason creating a painting that seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a mirror image of the scene before him. His drive for perfection meant that many paintings were destroyed, as the film shows, but the final products were most excellent representations of the landscape. Mason's unique style left no hint of how the paint was applied which makes his art seem even more realistic.

     The film is 86 minutes long. It is full of breathtaking scenes of waves, white water and Mason's expert canoeing. Bruce Cockburn's music fills in behind the visuals as Mason battles roiling rapids.

     This film would be of interest to those who like wilderness adventures and canoeing plus those who are interested in art and how great artists make it look so easy. It will also be of interest to those who are interested in film making and as an example of the work of an award-winning Canadian naturalist film maker. Waterwalker is a fairly long documentary that has many scenes without vocal description, something teachers using this film in a classroom should be aware of.

Highly recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364