The airwaves over the Mackenzie Delta resonate with the wild and joyous sounds of a northern fiddle tune. CBQM’s far-flung listeners – solitary trappers in their cabins, Gwich’in ladies busy with their beadwork, truckers heading north on the Dempster Highway – take comfort in the presence of an old friend. For them CBQM is more than a simple radio station. It’s their radio station – a dependable pal, a beacon in the storm of life, a resilient expression of identity and pride. Whether it’s reporting wolf sightings or broadcasting bingo games, airing debates on uranium mining or dedicating a hurtin’ country ballad to some heart-broken local, the citizen-run station has served the people of Fort McPherson for almost three decades.
Dennis Allen – a long-time listener and gifted filmmaker – pays tribute to the “Moccasin Telegraph” in his latest documentary, CBQM. With confident ease and a sharp ear for the poetry of daily life, he crafts a nuanced and big-hearted portrait of the place they call McPhoo, a small town that hugs the banks of the Peel River, about 150 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Home to some eight hundred souls, mostly Teetl’it Gwich’in, Fort McPherson’s unique spirit finds vital expression on CBQM, where respected Elders share the mic with raucous fiddlers, and Reverend Sue (host of Heaven Help Me) dispenses philosophy and cookie recipes. Allen documents it all with humour and affection, weaving a richly informative tableau of life in a northern town. An accomplished musician, Allen appreciates how song and storytelling sustain a culture, and his multilayered soundtrack playfully juxtaposes CBQM’s frequent personal announcements – “Angela, come over for a cup of tea” – with generous portions of old time country: the musical heartbeat of the North.
2009, 66 min 02 s
Alanis Obomsawin Best Documentary Award
Imagine Native Film + Media Arts Festival
October 14 to 18 2009, Toronto - Canada
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