Every summer, a large number of Canadians and their families retreat from bustling metropolises to rural, wooded, or lakefront cabins and islands with hopes of recharging their batteries and getting away from the daily grind and weekly stressors. In this day and age, however, most of these retreats are still relatively plugged in and wired to the outside world, and the amount of time spent at these idyllic retreats is often harshly regulated by never having as much time to spend there as one would hope (or in rare cases, too much time spent around bickering relatives).
There’s probably more than a few people who wish they could simply decamp to these temporary domiciles for the rest of their lives, but question the practicality of doing so. But for filmmaker and Dawson City native Suzanne Crocker, the idea was taken a step further. Her latest documentary, All the Time in the World (opening Friday, July 17, 2015 at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema after screening earlier this year at Hot Docs), was never intended to be a hard piece of filmmaking, but more of a document on how to live more simply and deliberately as her family spent a full year in the sometimes harsh climate of Yukon’s bush country.
“The whole point of going was to reconnect the family and to remember what it’s like living in the moment,” Crocker said, flanked by her husband, Gerard Parsons, and her three children during a sit down at Hot Docs. “The biggest challenge as a filmmaker was the fine line you walk when you tell your own story as a documentary. The kids say they remember all the events when they see them now, but they also say they never remembered my filming them. Actually, now if I were to do it again, I’d definitely do it without the cameras.”
Crocker’s back-to-basics approach makes the film a bit of a minor miracle: a message film about living simply that doesn’t have a grander, more sweeping statement or insistence that people need to change their lives and move to the woods. It’s a travelogue and a personal essay film rolled into one, and nothing was specifically designed just for the film.
The biggest challenge as a filmmaker was the fine line you walk when you tell your own story as a documentary. Actually, now if I were to do it again, I’d definitely do it without the cameras.
“Yukon was the natural choice (for a location) because we were already living there.” Suzanne states. “It was familiar territory for us because Gerard and I, about 14 years ago before we had any kids, wanted to have this kind of experience, and we did have it with a pre-existing cabin. We had already done a winter in the bush, so we knew what we had in store, but it was pretty special to be able to go out there with the kids.”
Her husband Gerard adds that the location wasn’t specifically picked for its natural beauty, either.
“The decision for the land wasn’t based on a need for great cinematography or anything like that. I said to Suzanne that people would probably come to see the film expecting to see great mountains and roaring rivers, but the film actually takes place in a more sedate, photographic wilderness. The movie isn’t about the scenery. It wasn’t even about making a movie at all. It was about the opportunity.”
The opportunity to take in everything around them extended to Suzanne’s filmmaking process, which was at times set aside in the best interest of carrying out the actual motives for moving to the bush for a year in the first place.
“The whole point of the trip was to capture things authentically,” Suzanne muses about her process, “I wasn’t setting out to tell any stories specifically at the outset. Viewers should be like flies on the wall of the cabin. Some of the most dramatic moments from our being up there aren’t in the film. There were times when I either wasn’t there or I had to comfort and help out rather than pick up a camera and film everything.”
We have all of these modern conveniences, and yet, ironically, these things tend to have the opposite effect. the more time saving devices we bring into our lives, the more people think you have time to do other things. But when that’s taken away, there’s nothing more important than what’s happening right then and in the moment.
The film also benefits from largely being told from the perspective of the children, and Suzanne’s witnessing of the fostering of their creativity.
“There was tons of creativity by the kids, but what was great was the ability to feel liberated enough to do things like that.” Suzanne states.
Her eldest daughter, Kate, concurs.
“I definitely think a lot of the story is told from our perspective, especially during Halloween, which was so great that it might have ruined all other Halloween’s for me,” Kate chuckled, remarking upon one of the film’s most memorable sequences. “But what was really great was that you could get up when you wanted to get up, and go to sleep when you wanted to go to sleep. There was never a time when we were forced to do anything.”
That lack of constraints is a by-product of Suzanne’s biggest sacrifice in the name of the project: no clocks or watches were allowed to remind them that time was in short supply.
“There’s this constant search to have more free time in our lives,” Suzanne begins. “We have all of these modern conveniences, and yet, ironically, these things tend to have the opposite effect. the more time saving devices we bring into our lives, the more people think you have time to do other things. But when that’s taken away, there’s nothing more important than what’s happening right then and in the moment.”
Still, the lack of clocks did lead to some early complications.
“Sometimes we got the time wrong,” Gerard says with a hearty laugh. “It’s usually dark when you get up, so we had to really learn how to read the night sky and the position of the stars and the moon. Sometimes when we were starting out, one of us would get up and get the fire going, start baking some scones, and only after it was all done would we realize it was still the middle of the night.”