Two Biologists and a Boy: Under Alar’s Spell

Dylan lays in front of a lichen-speckled grey rock, his head resting on an old canvas army bag. Spread around him are the contents of the bag: an old tin, a tattered black and white picture of Mount Columbia, a bone-covered jackknife, and a very old black and brass telescope. Behind him, Parkers Ridge is lit by thousands of fuzzy white dryas flowers going to seed. They glow against the red, orange and green of the autumn alpine. The Saskatchewan Glacier shines in the distance, and Dylan dreams of mountains.

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Dylan dreams of mountains. Photo by Niki Wilson.

This is one of the many beautiful scenes filmed by director Alar Kivilo. Dylan was, quite literally, cast under his spell as part of the local talent recruited for a movie about the Columbia Icefields. The 20-minute film will play in a new theatre in the soon-to-be renovated Icefields Centre.

Something transformative happened to Dylan while working with Alar. It’’s hard to put my finger on, but it was as if Dylan was wrapped in a magical cocoon, and he emerged with a world of possibility open to him.

He told his grandparents that he was not a movie-star, when Papa Neil teased him about it. He also told us that he didn’’t want to be an actor when he grew up, but was more interested in what Alar was doing behind the camera.

Alar prepares the scene with Dylan. Photo by Niki Wilson.

Alar is an accomplished Hollywood Cinematographer (e.g. The Blind Side), but his poetic, and evocative ad work for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism is what caught the attention of Stonehaven Productions, the company that won the contract to produce the film.

Alar and Focus Pull Mark Peachy prepare the shot. Photo by Niki WIlson.

While Alar works, there is very little small talk. He is fully immersed, scanning the landscape around him for interesting lines and patterns that repeat themselves in clouds, snow and rock. The line producer on the project, Scott Mason, joked that he will someday title a chapter of his autobiography ““Chasing Alar,”” because that is exactly what he and the crew did. Alar would often finish a shot, and then wordlessly wander away to scout another location, or follow a newly formed idea. “Where are we going next?” I would ask. “Not sure,” they would say.

There was something about this intensity that Dylan was drawn to, and when he wasn’’t playing with the two other kids on the shoot, I often caught him watching Alar closely. At times I felt like I was getting to know a side of Dylan I hadn’’t met yet. At one point he became upset during a game he was playing with the other kids, but when I handed him my camera to take shots (like Alar), he calmed right down.

Last shot at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. That’s a wrap. Photo by Niki Wilson.

Alar and the kids. Photo by Gemira McClary.

The whole experience seemed dusted with fairy sparkles. Now that I’ve reflected on it for a few days, I think it had a lot to do with being around the vision of a creatively empowered human being. Alar is a true artist, a storyteller. “You need to trust the process,” he told me. That kind of confidence in one’’s creative self is powerful medicine to be around.

One of the concepts of the film is that Dylan finds a quartz-streaked stone that will act as a talisman throughout his lifetime. I wonder if this experience will be like a talisman for Dylan, a touchstone to his past – and to himself. As we pulled away from the parking lot on our last shoot, Dylan began to cry and said, “I’’ll miss Alar.”

“Me too,” I said. Then I handed him my camera.

Niki Wilson

Niki Wilson

Niki Wilson is a contributing editor and writer for Highline Magazine. A writer, journalist and science communicator, she makes her home in Jasper, AB. Other publications include: Canadian Wildlife Magazine, BioScience, Natural History Magazine and the Science Media Centre of Canada, Earth Touch News Network, the Fitzhugh, and Experimental Popular Science. Find more at, or on twitter @niki_wilson.


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