Boreal to Barrenlands – Q&A With Crossing Labrador Documentary Filmmaker

One of Canada's last remaining wilderness frontiers.

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On July 15, 2019, a team of four set out in canoes to cross Labrador, one of Canada’s last remaining wilderness frontiers. Their expedition took them through three ecosystems and across two regional heights-of-land for a total of 670 kilometers in 35 days. The team was comprised of Noah Booth, Alex Traynor, Chris Giard and Dave Greene.

Labrador was having one of its rainiest summers on record, meaning the group faced rain 28 of the 35 days, with temperatures averaging 11 degrees Celcius.

Labrador is known for its challenging terrain and relentlessness bugs, but it is also known as having some of the most pristine landscapes in Canada. “There are so many places we got to see that would be national parks if they were closer to civilization,” says Noah Booth of Northern Scavenger.

On March 3, 2020 Noah Booth and Alex Traynor released their documentary, Boreal to Barrenlands – Crossing Labrador, to highlight their trip and followed it up with a video series on their Youtube channel.

Why Labrador?

Noah had been flying into Goose Bay, Labrador quite frequently with work and after seeing the vast wilderness from the sky, he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to do a trip in this area. Reading books like Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace and Great Heart by John West Davidson and John Rugge gave the final push to plan a trip here.

How long did it take to prepare for this trip?

We were preparing for more than six months leading up to the trip. Weekly conference calls made sure we were able to divide up tasks among the team and get the information that we needed for this trip. We had a real mix of skill sets on the team and bringing them all together made the perfect team.

I had never done a trip of this length before and I would say one of the most unique things for me was how we divided up food. Each team member prepared nine days worth of food for four guys ensuring each meal had a minimum of 4,000 calories (1,000 per person).

The meal system on the trip was to rotate on a food schedule. You would start by cooking dinner and you would then be on breakfast and lunch the following day. Starting at dinner allowed you to prepare any bannock that you wanted to make for lunch the following day at night to remove the need to have a fire at lunch the following day. When it was your turn on breakfast, you were the first out of the tent in the morning and you would get the fire, breakfast and coffee ready before waking up the rest of the team. Once you completed your cycle, you were off cooking duties for three days.

What was the most challenging aspect of the trip?

The most challenging part of this trip was keeping mentally focused. They physical part of this type of trip can be done by many, but when you layer that with being constantly wet, cold and being swarmed by bugs, it gets really difficult to focus on the tasks and stay positive.

We relied on humor to get us through and sometimes just laughing at how difficult a situation is helps you to get through that moment.

To add to this, we had a lot of challenges you wouldn’t always be able to anticipate going into a trip like this. The first being when Noah got severely sick for seven days to the point where he was barely eating or drinking. Another being when Dave lost a tooth and we were getting worried about an infection setting in, and finally when Chris and I managed to perfectly wrap a canoe around a rock. These three things happened in a span of four days and we managed to capture them all on film.

What was the most challenging aspect of filming on the expedition?

We definitely have a passion for filming that levels close to our passion for doing these remote backcountry trips. It is usually the best footage that ends up being the most difficult to film. That really difficult portage that you are on gets harder when you need to run ahead of the group to get the shot and then run back to get the packs that you left behind.

At the same time, sometimes it is just what you need as a distraction. Going back to how we relied heavily on humor to get us through the tough times, sometimes just knowing that you are going to capture this difficult moment on camera makes it worth getting through.

The final thing I would add is the team dynamics in filming a trip. Not everyone wants to have a camera in their face the whole time, or sometimes filming would hold the group up. I wish I could have caught the number of eye rolls I got while holding the camera on this trip.

How much video did you film versus the runtime of final film?

We ended up with about 33 hours of footage coming out of this trip and we wanted to make sure we made the most of it. This is why we decided to go with both a documentary-style film that recaps our trip in under an hour, as well as an in-depth video series that viewers into the day-in-day-out of this trip. For those that just want to see the highlights of the trip, the documentary is perfect for that audience, but for those who really want to know what it was like, the video series will be the deeper dive.

I once had a friend ask me after a trip, “who has to do the editing?” and I had to explain that Noah and I usually fight over who gets to do it. Having both a documentary and a video series allowed us each to have a project to work out and in the end, provided more content for the viewers.

The editing process takes time and you really need to enjoy doing it. We start by going through every minute of footage looking for all the best audio and video clips and slowly work it down from there. The documentary was a little more difficult because there is so much good footage you need to cut from the finished product. Knowing that the cut footage would still get used in the video series made this part a little easier to accept.

What’s the next adventure?

Our next adventure is still in the works. It definitely won’t be nearly as long, but we are just seeking a good story.

Featured Photo: Alex Traynor (Northern Scavenger)

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