Everyday here at TreeHugger, we deal with stuff in some way. We're all preoccupied with what sorts of things we should and shouldn't acquire, how to get them, and how to get rid of them. Two Museums' cinematic exploration, screened at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, may be the most beautiful meditation on stuff I have ever seen. It's not very TreeHuggerish of me to suggest that you get more of it in the form of a mail order DVD, but in this case I'm letting advocacy for the potential effects of this film experience outweigh the wastefulness. If you teach anything sustainability/consumption related, or simply want a rich reflection on what you have acquired, and what you will leave behind, grab a copy."Two museums" refers to separate "collections" curated by two women on the Saskatchewan prairie. Twenty-something filmmaker Leah Nakonechny's grandmother, Selma, oversees the artifacts of a life that began in the Great Depression: photographic remembrances, church bazaar treasures, and implements for living. A fan of clutter, Selma's farm house is teeming with this stuff. As we become intimate with her home, items like the cow ornament above a door, and the plastic bucket used by her son to deliver strawberries, become inextricably bound to her person. Her photo collection reveals a childhood filled with structures and people that have passed; her collection is a monument to her life.
Allison, on the other hand, curates using strangers' objects at the Morse Museum, a place dedicated to preserving the memory of former settlers. A young woman, she catalogs the anonymous artifacts of lives past alone in a sprawling, cavernous house owned by the community. The juxtaposition of Selma's and Allison's projects achieves much, but it particularly shows how intimate, personal identity extensions become disassociated things. In one poignant scene, we see Allison ending her tenure at the museum and receiving parting gifts. It's difficult not to think of her new tea pot becoming an archived object, completely detached from context and emotional significance.
As the landscape Allison and Selma have chosen while many have departed, the prairie becomes a beautifully captured third character. The seasons structure time and provide the foundation of daily existence. Simultaneously, the land reclaims the remnants of lives: Selma's abandoned childhood home provides shelter for cattle and swallows, cars waste away to rust. Farming equipment requires constant maintenance and defense against the elements. Tending to the everyday and collecting artifacts provide a temporary sense of permanence. One of the reasons the film works so well is that the specificity of the prairie becomes a universal backdrop for all of our landscapes. We know we will return to them. What remnants will we leave?
Leah Nakonechny and her husband Simon (the film's producer) are both from the same village, but met at college in Montreal. The young couple returned home to the prairie together, where they work on revitalization projects such as reinventing an old, downtown, vaudeville theater. They are particularly proud that Two Museums toured in Saskatchewan, marking the first time most residents saw their ways and landscape represented cinematically. Anyone who has left a small town for opportunity or to find others like her must appreciate the couple's courage to journey home. :: Two Museums at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival