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VIFF 2017: The Mountain of SGaana

Review by Aaron Guillen

Image courtesy of Vancouver International Film Festival

The Mountain of SGaana

dir. Christopher Auchter

The Mountain of SGaana*, an award-winning short film based on a Haida story, weaves a magical tale of a woman who goes on an adventure to save her loved one who was captured by a killer whale and taken to the supernatural world.

The Haida story begs for a generation of young adults to reconnect with their culture that may have been lost over time. Skipper, a fisherman, is distracted by the world within his own phone that he can’t see the Mouse Woman, a character designed to teach him to open his eyes, heart, and mind to his heritage and the important folktales that are shared to each new generation.

The Mountain of SGaana doesn’t rely on words to get the message across. The film shows the whole story through artful music within ten minutes. The soundtrack perfectly backs any scene, bringing a fresh new look on animation shorts. During one scene, Kuunga Kuns, the heroine, is singing in the middle of a vast ocean, peering into the glimmering water. Though understood only by Haida film-goers, the emotions in her voice pierce through any language barrier. The words she sings brings about a sense of hope and courage in that moment.

While the Haida story benefits from music, the colour and seamless transitions elevate the short film from amateur to professional status, perhaps one of the reasons the short film won its first award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) for Best Animated Film or Series for Young Audiences—Ages 6-12.

Throughout the film, the colour pops off the screen in a bright and captivating way without being oversaturated. When it comes to the transitions, the story is interwoven with such finesse that keeps the audience spellbound. In one instance, the killer whale is on its way to capture the Haida couple into the supernatural world once again. The framing sets up a perfect shot for various points of view: one being from the couple, one from the fisherman, and the other from the killer whale. These points of view are shown simultaneously, with the screen divided into four frames. The inclusion of various shots breathes a fresh perspective on a Haida story that has been shared from generation to generation.

Ultimately, The Mountain of SGaana leaves the audience with an urge to dive deeper into the world of Haida people and their heritage. Though many film-goers will not understand exactly what’s going on or how many cultural aspects are included, the film is guaranteed to touch viewers’ hearts.

*Sgaana can mean both “killer whale” and “supernatural”.


The LINK Magazine team had the opportunity to check out a few films during the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival. Check back here for more reviews and interviews with some of the VIFF filmmakers!