NAMTC Member News
Submitted By: Katherine M. Finley - Web Site: www.bullfrogfilms.com
Bullfrog Film Wins Award
Passage, directed by John Walker, distributed by Bullfrog Films, Inc., has been selected by the Organization of American Historians (OAH) to receive the 2010 Erik Barnouw Award, which is given annually for outstanding reporting or programming on network or cable television, or in documentary film, concerned with American history, the study of American history, and/or the promotion of history. On Saturday, April 10, OAH President Elaine Tyler May and President-Elect David A. Hollinger will present the award in Washington, DC, during the 103rd Annual Meeting of the Organization.
Passage, a truly remarkable piece of historical filmmaking, is a lyrical model of how to construct a historical project while showcasing both the processes of making that history, as well as the changing political stakes of a specific historical narrative over time. The film’s historical subject is Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition to discover the Northwest Passage; the shocking report of Hudson’s Bay physician John Rae, who found evidence in 1851 that the starving crew had resorted to cannibalism in their last days; and the British counter-narrative which blamed the Inuit for the crew’s death, rather than accept Rae’s report of cannibalism. Formally, filmmaker John Walker constructs a documentary within a documentary: we see the film crew making the documentary, period costume and all, in the Arctic, in Rae’s childhood home in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, and in London, while also pursuing (in contemporary garb) the contested historical evidence. As the film unfolds, we learn the extent to which the Victorian narrative of Inuit treachery continues to shape some contemporary understandings of the Franklin expedition. The film’s narrative tension builds to an explosive meeting in the boardroom of the British Royal Navy, as Tagak Curley, an honored Inuit statesman, confronts the ongoing, contemporary production of a narrative of British heroism and Inuit savagery. For its unparalleled brilliance in showcasing the historical consequences of making choices in the production of historical narrative, Passage is exemplary for the “promotion of history,” a central criteria of the Erik Barnouw Award.