Film about Yellowknife dump premieres at SXSW

Gulls at the Yellowknife dump, a still from the documentary Salvage. Submitted photo
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A decade after she first came to Yellowknife, Amy C. Elliott’s film about the Yellowknife dump and salvaging culture north of 60 will premiere at the South By Southwest (SXSW) film festival.

Salvage, a one-hour documentary directed and shot by Elliott, will screen at SXSW Friday, March 8. The premiere is almost ten years to the day of her first shoot at the dump, when she came to Yellowknife for a few weeks and ‘fell in love with the dump’.

Amy C. Elliott, director of Salvage. Submitted photo

Wanting to document what went on at an open dump, Elliott scoured the U.S. and online for a good spot to make the film back in 2009. She happened upon longtime Yellowknife artist, prospector and writer Walt Humphries’ column Tales from the Dump.

“I’m based in New York, my first choice of a shooting location was not something that was 7,000 round trip miles away from me,” she says. “As it turned out, it was extremely fortuitous. The film because as much, I think, about the Yellowknife culture as it did about the dump because I think so much of the two are intertwined.”

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The film, which she calls a ‘labour of love’, was made possible with the amount of access she was able to gain from locals who were open and eager to talk on camera. “Everyone is really enthusiastic about the dump. It sounds silly maybe, but it’s a place that has a lot of meaning for people, it’s special and it’s different. It’s not a place that you see in other areas of the continent, really.”

Salvage Trailer from Amy C. Elliott on Vimeo.

Salvaging at the dump and writing his column for thirty years, Humphries says frequenting the dump allows Yellowknifers to stretch their disposable income by supplementing what they own with salvaged goods. Humphries says he built a cabin with much of the material salvaged from there.

Walt Humphries. Submitted photo

“I think all dumps should be open to salvaging. I think it’s a crime that we throw perfectly good stuff away that could be used. And that goes from food to clothes to, you name it.”

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Over the five years of shooting, Elliott noticed changed in Yellowknife society. Airfare became cheaper, Amazon became a relatively cheap and efficient alternative to salvaging and the dump itself became more regulated.

Humphries says previous city leadership was intent on killing the dump ‘by a thousand cuts.’ He hopes the new leadership sees the film and the potential of the dump in enhancing the standard of living of locals.

“The way they’ve managed the dump, they’ve cut the salvaging down and down and down so that there’s less to salvage so less people go to salvage,” he says. “I’m hoping with the new mayor and administrator and with this film, they’ll see the wisdom of opening the dump up to more salvaging not less.”

Elliott says she can’t think of a better place to premier Salvage than at SXSW. “In addition to being one of the top festivals in the U.S., it’s still off-beat enough and kind of celebrates the DIY aesthetic and you see films there that you wouldn’t see at other festivals.”

Elliott says she plans to submit the film to the Yellowknife Film Festival and she’s determined to show it here one way or another. “I will make it happen, if I have to rent out a theatre myself and pay for the screening I will do it. Because I want everybody to see it.”

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