THE MIGHTY RIVER

Video

Interview with Frédéric Back on the pollution of the St. Lawrence.

Credit: Radio-Canada, La semaine verte, colour, 1993, 02:19 (interview in french)

Background

"In all who have experienced it-from early explorers to present-day visitors-the huge waterway known as the St. Lawrence River has inspired surprise, admiration, fear and increasing concern for its survival. The fate of the river is, after all, closely tied to our own well-being.

"It isn't easy to do justice to the beauty and extraordinary magnitude of the river. Everything to do with it is breathtaking. It's very challenging to capture, in animated drawings, the immensity of this body of water, the constant play of colour and light.

"Originating in the Great Lakes, at an altitude of 180 metres, the St. Lawrence wends its way to the Atlantic in a series of spectacular cataracts, impetuous rapids and broad stretches of water. Circling into thousands of bays along its way, the river is fed by major tributaries supporting a huge array of life forms, from plankton to blue whales. For thousands of years, human populations have prospered along the shores of this most generous river.

"Nowadays, we rarely think about the time when humans were unintrusive and didn't have the destructive power of firearms and industry at their disposal. Our reckless greed has had disastrous effects on what seemed to be a limitless source of life and vitality.

"It's important for people to know how the St. Lawrence was before to realize what's been lost. Five very populous bird species have disappeared. Sailors used to complain about the huge number of whales; their ships would often collide with enormous sea turtles, sometimes weighing up to a ton. Today, it's extremely rare to see marine life in these waters. People pay to go whale-watching on the St. Lawrence; it's quite a thrill if one of these behemoths happens to surface from its depths."
F.B.

To research the film, Frédéric Back travelled to Quebec City, Rimouski, Forillon and Havre-Saint-Pierre, and then boarded the Express-Nordic supply ship to sail along the Lower North Shore as far as Blanc-Sablon. The script and narration are the result of a close collaboration with biologists and historians, since Back wanted to make sure he was creating a reliable resource for the general public, teachers and students. In just 24 minutes, the film offers an encompassing view of the St. Lawrence, past and present, in the hope that viewers will rally forces and pressure governments to put conservation policies into place.

Message

All of the world's rivers are in a similar predicament. From life-giving waters, they became access routes to unknown lands, spawning great civilizations that have since become the source of their demise. This film offers a glimpse of the relatively short history of the St. Lawrence from its origins to its present state, following the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century. It recreates the river's former glory and lays bare the waves of senseless destruction it has suffered over the years.

"People are starting to be more aware. Efforts are being made to restore and protect this natural resource. Like all of the world's great rivers, the St. Lawrence is there to be rediscovered, to be loved, to be saved. We must all take part in this rescue effort, because water is a source of life, of beauty and of hope."
F.B.

The film has given rise to a book written by biologist Claude Villeneuve and illustrated with original drawings by Frédéric Back. Although it only exists in French, the book Le Fleuve aux grandes eaux is a valuable source of scientific information for those eager to learn more about the beleaguered St. Lawrence.

Synopsis

Over a million years ago, glaciers began gouging the bed of a colossal river that the Aboriginal people would call 'Magtogoek' (the path that walks), today known as the St. Lawrence River. The Mighty River is a love song, a tribute to a gentle giant whose beauty we have taken for granted. The film has a lot to teach us: about the history of the river and its astounding riches; about the people who have lived, and continue to live, on its shores. The story of the St. Lawrence is the story of the rivers of the world. It is the story of life itself-a fragile life that tentatively takes hold and then bursts forth. A life that abounds seemingly without end, only to wither under the relentless attacks of a rapacious and reckless humankind.