"To Make the Most of the Moments": Interview with Filmmaker Suzanne Crocker
Suzanne Crocker and her family spent spend nine months in the bush in a small cabin with no electricity, no running water, and no clocks. She did however, bring a camera.
All the Time in the World is an intimate documentary about a family's journey into the Yukon wilderness. Suzanne Crocker, her partner Gerard Parsons, their three children, and a trio of pets are living in Dawson City (population c. 1500) in northern Canada when they decide to spend nine months in the bush in a small cabin with no electricity, no running water, and, most importantly, no clocks, letting the world around them determine their rhythms.
“To get ourselves the freedom of time," says Crocker at film's start, "We had to free ourselves from the structure of time and see what would happen." All the Time in the World has screened at film festivals in Canada, the US, and Europe, winning multiple Audience Choice Awards. It is currently opening in select theaters North America throughout the spring and summer. It is now available n demand in Canada.
PopMatters spoke with Suzanne Crocker when she was in Torino for the 18th edition of Cinemambiente, Torino's Environmental Film Festival.
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You describe your film as a "journey". At what point did you decide to document this effort to leave technology behind?
Quickly. The experience was never intended to be a film. We did it because we wanted to understand something and to remove ourselves from life's distractions and technology and get our priorities back in check. It was about six weeks before we were actually leaving that I decided I'd document it with a camera. It was basically because there was so much curiosity from people from the South, our family and friends, about what we were doing.
In the North, where we live, it's not that strange of a concept to spend time in the bush. Nobody really sees it as a crazy idea. People live in the bush and people bring their children there. While there are bears and it's still considered something rather dangerous, it's accepted. So there was a lot of curiosity about what we were going to do and how we would do it. I thought, since not everyone understands this concept, I'd document it.
When did you realize that your personal project could be a feature length documentary?
When I decided to make the film, I really had to invest in camera equipment. So when I made the decision to document it, I knew it wasn't just going to be a home movie. I was thinking of it as a [short] documentary and potentially as a full length [film]. I had that in my mind and of course, when you have that in your mind, it changes how you shoot, because I would be shooting for the movie. I didn't know if I'd have enough of anything, but I thought I'd give it a go and see.
PM: What was the reaction from your family when you told them you were going to film?
They didn't really think anything about it. This question often comes up about how it changed the experience. It was incredibly important to me that filming didn't change how we were living, mainly because the whole idea was not to be distracted. That to me was really important, that balance between documenting it truthfully and [not] ruining it for me or the family. But I feel like I worked to do that. Since it was nine months, there were a lot of times that the camera never surfaced. From a filmmaking point of view, some of those times are the shots you want, but as you're living the story and it being your life, you can't. There were moments when I'd be running for the camera, but because I was alone without a crew, it remained natural. It was an advantage because my family really didn't change their behavior when the camera was on. My daughter Kate said, “When I watch the film, I remember all of the events. I remember them happening. I remember the event but I don't actually remember the moments."
What about the structure of the film? Did you have any kind of plan or did it come together in the editing process?
There's a chronology with the changing of the seasons which had an effect on the structure of the film. So it was pretty easy to put together and yet we had to make sure to capture the transitions. For the interviews, I decided that I would interview my family and they would interview me. I had that plan before. And then there are some things that I just knew I wanted to capture in the bush, the natural beauty for example.
But the other stuff, which is the majority, is kind of organic because you don't know what's going to happen and at the moment that it's happening you don't necessarily know if it's going to be something interesting so you have to be aware. In fact, I still didn't really know what I had captured until I got back and started going through the 500 hours of footage.
PHow did you come into contact with your film editor, Michael Parfit?
SI was able to meet him because in the Yukon we are small group of filmmakers. We don't have a giant film community and yet this tiny town has an amazing arts and culture scene. When people are brought in they're very there for you because instead of many filmmakers there are maybe only 12. So you meet people and you get to know them. Having made a couple of animated shorts I began to meet people in the industry.
After our time in the bush, we relocated to Victoria for about a year. At a certain stage of working on this film, I realized that what I needed was more objectivity, objectivity from someone with a higher skill set. Michael Parfit agreed to work on the project and that way I was able to finish.
Do you feel you were able to remain true to your vision?
Yes, definitely. Michael and I worked together. He worked very hard, but we worked together and I was very much involved. I had already edited two other works, so I was familiar with the process and that helped. He brought wonderful things to the project.
For me, time is the essential idea in the film, being in the moment, not knowing what time it was. Watching the film, I thought of how often we might say, “Not now, I don't have time." But after living in the bush for a while, you realized you could say, “Why not?" It seems like a profound shift in thinking.
When we first went into the bush, I knew what I was trying to achieve, but I didn't feel at the beginning like we were there. I think I mention in the film that we were just as "stuck in time." But things changed. In the film, I make reference to the berry picking. It was kind of the first shift. I don't know if you have ever picked berries, but there is just no way to rush that activity. I mean, you pick a berry and then you put it in a bucket. Everything kind of slows down. That was the very first shift where we began to relax.
The farther we got into winter, the more we were able to be alone together. The winter can be a little hard. There was a second transition with time when there was so much that you couldn't do. This happened around the time when the river started to freeze. At that point you can't make a boat trip, you can't make a canoe trip. There was also the idea of "We have to live with what we have, if don't have it, we don't have it." We didn't have to think about a lot of things that we thought we had to do. At that point, there's the sense of just letting go, of getting back to basics.
But you've come back to your lives in town.
There's a reason why we drifted home. You know we could have gotten home in a couple of days, but we decided not to turn on the motor for the whole trip back. The drifting helped with the transition on the other end. It was really hard to go back. Actually the first thing we did when we got back to town is… we ate hamburgers (laughs). But when I got home, the first thing I did was take the clock off the wall because I just wasn't ready. And then bit by bit we adjusted and I eventually put the clock back. But, for example I don't wear a watch.
I was a person who's really triggered by the clock, so if I noticed the time I always reacted. However, I think what I find now, in a positive way, is that I've learned how to apply some of what we learned in the bush to everyday life, that it's essential to remind myself to make the most of the moments. All of that comes back. I think having had those nine months is a reminder to me that I can put aside certain things and my head is now thinking. "I can do this." It's easier to recognize when things are getting out of hand and easier to pull away.
Now that your kids are getting older, how would you describe their relationships with technology?
They mostly got introduced to the computer through school. They don't have iPads or laptops or video games and they don't ask for them. No one in the family has a cell phone. They really value their free time. They don't want to be over-structured. They like their free time. They're absolutely protective about it and they have absolutely no trouble filling their time without the use of tablets or devices. They're pretty incredible in that way.
Describe the interviewing process in the film.
Originally I had this idea to interview everybody. Some interviews were made during our time in the bush and others when we returned. When I asked them, they answered differently because I was there and they knew that. After when we got out of the bush and we were in Victoria for a while, we had a teacher we really liked. She really knew nothing about what we did. I asked her and she agreed to interview them. The kids felt comfortable with her and I felt they would answer in a different way than with me. It was important that she didn't know about things that happened in the bush.
Your middle daughter, Kate, who was eight at the time, made a comment that stayed with me. “What I will miss from being in the bush is kind of all the freedom you get there. Being free felt like being timeless."
Yeah, I'm blown away by what my kids say too, but I guess kids are so honest. You know there's that expression, “out of the mouths of babes." I was impressed by how much creativity and laughter returned to our family. In nine months, we never heard the words, “I'm bored." There was no sibling rivalry and all that undistracted time together inside and outside helped everyone to have the best year of our life as a family.