Geographies of Solitude review — Sable Island paradise

Directed by Jacquelyn Mills | 103 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | CBC Gem 

We barely hear a voice for the first 10 minutes of this documentary. Instead, we get the pleasure of images and sounds from Sable Island, the almost mythical crescent sandbar off the coast of Nova Scotia, home to seals and horses and Zoe Lucas, who is the ostensible caretaker of the place.

When we do hear Lucas speak, we don’t see her face. Mills intentionally preserves a measure of anonymity in her guide to this remote and elemental place. You’ve got to wonder why the filmmaker made this decision — perhaps it was at the request of Lucas herself.

What we’re left with then, if not a portrait of the scientist, then a portrait of her work and legacy. We see in sharp detail the way she diligently and systematically assesses and catalogues the landscape around her, from measuring the signs of climate changes and watching insects and animals to collecting the marine garbage, all things she’s done on the island for more than 40 years. The film soars, dips, and dapples, exploring a gorgeously hazy visual palette shot on 16mm.

The filmmaker also has her own agenda, separate from the work of the island’s resident scientist. Mills conducts a few visual experiments of her own with the very material the film is shot on. This review won’t reveal particulars because a lot of the pleasure of Geographies of Solitude comes from the myriad ways it is itself a discovery of the island it’s set on.

The film is an absolutely essential watch for anyone living in this part of Canada, and one of the finest documentaries to come out of Nova Scotia in ages. Geographies of Solitude won Best Canadian film at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto last year.

The director will present Geographies of Solitude: A Case Study in Surrender at the Making Waves Conference, March 25 at 10am at the Prince George Hotel in Halifax

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.