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(The 2019 SXSW Film Festival ran March 8-17 in the fantastic city of Austin, TX. Lead critic Chris Reed was on the ground in Austin and has his usual massive slate of reviews and interviews. Stay tuned! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Waste not, want not. So think the people of Yellowknife, capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, who hate to see good things thrown away. Their municipal dump has long been a treasure trove of salvageable goods, from furniture to appliances and even to food. Given, until recently, the relative isolation of the community and distance from other towns and cities in the rest of the country, folks who move away find it easier, and less expensive, to discard items – even new ones – rather than pay to bring them along. In the same vein, if one can overcome societal disapprobation of raiding a trash heap (weaker in Yellowknife than elsewhere, anyway), then the dump provides amazing opportunities. In Salvage, director Amy C. Elliott (Wicker Kittens) plunges knee-deep in refuse and emerges with a highly entertaining, informative, briskly paced and quite profound documentary about Yellowknife’s (sadly) fading favorite pastime.

 It seems, at first, that everyone is in on the fun, even up to a former territorial commissioner, who proudly shows off the sparkling refrigerator he found. There are people who recover discarded stuffed animals, handcrafted native artifacts and perfectly good furs, first cleaning them before using, or reselling and/or donating, instead. There is even one man who has decided to no longer shop at regular retail, able to scrounge enough edible items to support a (for now) sustainable lifestyle. Along the way, Elliott’s subjects discuss the ease with which modern humans throw stuff away, with an important aside about the environmental effects of such behavior. Perhaps if we all adopted the methods of those in Yellowknife, the planet would benefit,

Unfortunately, as the population of the city has grown in recent years, so has its regulations, and the salvage tradition is now threatened, the dump seen as unsafe. We watch the progression from an open season on garbage to a more restricted access, a taste of a possible future where salvaging may no longer be allowed at all. That seems ever more likely, especially since, at the end, we witness the arrival of Amazon, that scourge of all local markets (full confession: I buy almost everything from there). Hopefully Salvage will encourage a relaxation of the new codes. In the meantime, at least we have this terrific movie as a great historical artifact, never to be discarded.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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