60s documentary on living in the mountains of Alaskan/Canada with family
February 19, 2015 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Im almost positive I watched a documentary, linked on the blue, about a family living in the woods in an idyllic rural part of either Canada or Alaska. I cannot for the life of me find it, but I'll bet you can help me!

Details: it was about a man and his family living in either the wilds of Canada or Alaska in the 1960s. It is not this one though that's great too. It could possibly have been from the 50s, but it was in color, so 60s seems likelier to me. I also remember scenes with grass and swimming and other various non-frozen wasteland stuff, so it was either filmed in summer/spring or it wasn't too-too far north, wherever it was. It's possible it was filmed over a year, chronicling what the family did to get ready for each season. I seem to remember him arriving by prop plane on the lake where his cabin was.

Dick Proenneke lived alone; the guy I'm thinking of had his family along. His wife, two boys and daughter were with him. There was a scene where Dad and the boys go hunting for a bighorn sheep and bag one on a mountain ridge, then butcher and pack it down. I remember there being a bit where they make johnnie cakes on a skillet on their trek. There was another scene where the two boys are taking a homemade raft across the lake they lived on, with, I recall, a sail made of a bedsheet or something like that. The mom was slightly worried about their prospects (understandably!) There was a bit where they catch ridiculously big (pike?) fish. I recall our subject also doing voice over, about how great it was to be in the outdoors making a life for yourself, and I remember him looking like an L.L. Bean/Marloboro Man type: plaid jackets, wide brimmed hat.

I've tried googling and site search with no luck, and I'm beginning to think I didn't find it here, but then again I find everything good on the Internet at Metafilter so it MUST have been here! Or it was a random YouTube suggestion I was given after watching something similar, in which case I'm afraid I'll never find it again. For the life of me whenever I try to find it all I come across is the great Dick Proenneke. This wasn't that. Similar topic, similar time period, but a different movie about different people. The one I'm after has guy and family, not solo mountain man.

What say you, hive mind? Thanks! And if you can't help me find this one in particular, what are your other recommendations in this vein? Happy People is a favorite of mine; I'm less enthusiastic about hardcore survivalist stuff and more about the process of living way the hell in the middle of nowhere and doing it joyfully with lots of traditional processes.
posted by andromache to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Any of these Indie Alaska PBS episodes fit the bill?
posted by jillithd at 6:48 AM on February 19, 2015

Is it at all possible it is one of the Wilderness Family films? They're not actually documentaries, but sort of feel like they are.
posted by maxsparber at 8:18 AM on February 19, 2015

Sounds like the 1978 movie: The Alaska Wilderness Adventure.
posted by goml at 5:00 PM on February 19, 2015

It sounds like you are talking about the Meadors. Here's an oral history from Elaine Meader

There's also a link to the movie they made Year of the Caribou
posted by readery at 10:41 PM on February 20, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions, but it's none of these so far. The one I'm thinking of was filmed prior to all of these, I'm just about certain. It must have been 50s or 60s, based on the quality of the footage, the styles, etc.

Keep ideas coming, please!
posted by andromache at 8:36 PM on February 23, 2015

Response by poster: You guys! I got it!

High, Wild and Free. 1968, by George Eastman. Free on Amazon Prime, shot in BC.

I was right about some of what I remembered in the OP, got a few details wrong. So I rewatched and enjoyed it again, but was really struck by how dated it seemed. Some of it, charmingly so (simpler time kind of thing, the old ways have wisdom etc.) some of it, blatantly sexist and racist and unpalatable. When they go fishing with their wives, he's paternalistic and condescending to their efforts; when he goes rafting with an Indian he does a caricature voiceover imitating his speech. It's pretty bad in parts. But also, the way I figured it, Eastman had known these guys for years and, while there was more noble savage stereotyping that I'd have liked, I do believe he liked and respected these people. He just had a super duper privileged white man perspective that is at very best grating to modern ears.

Also, he shoots a longhorn ram. He goes on and on about how this is the last place on the continent you can find these majestic creatures and they're so rare and blah blah and then BLAM his son gets one and he does too. He sort of excuses himself, saying something like, one of these is more than enough for a hunter in his lifetime, we use all the meat, hide, whatever, it's the way of the world, etc. He also concludes on a nice note, how he'd much rather shoot one of them with a camera than a gun. But still, 50 years on I can't help but wonder how many of these critters are still around, and how many more would be had not they been hunted. And also, even though it's from a while back, this guy wasn't a lifelong homesteader, he was a photographer, a filmmaker. He was staging these things to some extent. It's actually a pretty amazing early example of reality tv, or something like it. Sort of documentary, sort of staged and planned to make it more interesting. But in a good way, in that he obviously had to set up his own camera, walk back down the trail, and then walk towards the lense to get his hiking transition shot.

That's a long caveat. I hope it doesn't dissuade those of you who might be interested in this thing from giving it a chance. There is some of the best footage I have ever seen of wild British Columbia, and there are lovely moments like when his teenaged boys take his little floating dock, attach a bedsheet to it and sail across the lake away from the family cabin for a few days, and come home with some big old fish. Also, he finds a bear cub stuck up a tree, gets it down and feeds it condensed milk, then takes it to the Indians who adopt it and let it romp around on the ground with one of their infants. Pretty great. And good stories about surviving alone way the hell in the middle of nowhere with a family. And making a canoe by hand (and the getting flipped in near freezing water). And flying in a bush plane with two dogs he's brought along to help pack his gear.

A bottom line: if you like Ray Mears or Les Stroud or those kinds of things, and you can watch this as a historical document and acknowledge the backwards-ass worldview without letting it ruin the experience for you, give this one a chance.
posted by andromache at 6:49 AM on June 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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