It’s fairly rare I spend a Thursday evening in, but last night it was just the ticket. Good thing, too, or I would have missed the The Herd, a true Canadian story of the “world’s greatest reindeer drive”. It’s hard for most of us to imagine what it would be like to drive 3,000 reindeer for 1500 miles from Buckland, Alaska to the Mackenzie River area of the Northwest Territories, but this film does a great job of recreating it. 62 year-old Andy Bahr, described by one of the characters as “the world’s best reindeer man”, began the trek on Dec 26, 1929 and was supposed to reach his destination with his crew and herd 18 months later. Six years later, he made it and was only 1 reindeer short of 3,000. The trials and tribulations of this massive undertaking were chronicled in Bahr’s journals, which are really the focul point of the story.
To give as an idea of what kind of conditions the herdsmen and the herds were subjected to, the filmakers give us an aerial view of the journey, showing us at once how awe-inspiring and forbidding the Arctic landscape can be, and use descendants of the original herd along to show their movements. They also use stand-in actors to recreate some typical scenes, but they don’t talk and instead journal entries from Bahr and a couple of his men are read by actors. Bahr’s journal entries are read by Graham Greene, and they are probably the best part.
Imagine that after a year of travelling the route from Alaska to the Yukon, they only managed to cover 200 miles, and had another 1300 miles to go before reaching their destination. They experienced 6 brutally cold arctic entries, often very low on supplies like food and wood. I watched this film and was completely engaged by the visuals and the voiced-over journal and letter readings.
This is a documentary film, but the director uses some dramatic re-enactments at times which may put this in that grey area called the Docu-drama. But this is really a straight-forward documentary account of what must be one of the greatest achievements of any herdsman. These guys who went to the North Pole first are famous, but for me the story of the directed movement of a herd of reindeer accross the Arctic spanning 6 years is simply one of the best stories of human achievment and endurance I’ve ever had the pleasure of “watching”.
If you get a chance to see this, do yourself a favour and watch “The Herd”