The White Dawn

Institute History

  • 1993 Sundance Film Festival


For ten months of the year, the islands of the Canadian Arctic archipelago are joined by a wasteland of glaciers, frozen lakes and snow. In May 1896, six whalers from Massachusetts left their mother ship in pursuit of a whale. Their boat ran aground and splintered in the ice. Three of the whalers survived, and what happened to them is the basis of Philip Kaufman's epic adventure, The White Dawn.

Filmed on location with a supporting cast of local Eskimos, The White Dawn is a poetic fable which exposes the corrupting power of civilization. The three marooned whalers journey across snow and ice and thankfully find a settlement of Eskimos. They are initially treat· ed like deities by the Eskimos, who offer them reverence, gifts and even their women. Still the Americans remain cynical and suspicious, and in return introduce dishonesty, gambling and violence to the village, eventually destroying the Eskimos' pure way of life.

In one chilling scene, an Eskimo accepts a challenge to wrestle one of the Americans. According to Eskimo rules, the first man to be thrown off his feet loses. The Eskimo wins, but the angry American wrestles him to the ground and pins him. As we continue to fight the battles and feel the scars of cultural assimilation, such poignant scenes seem not only timeless, but timely.

Saturday Jan 23 4:30 pm
Holiday Village Cinema III


— Catherine Schulman

Screening Details

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