Harsh & Home in One

Welcome to Nain combines adventure travel with local life.

Welcome to Nain begins with a simple phrase: “What’s harsh to some is home to others.” Director Émile Dontigny takes us on a Wintery journey through Nain, a settlement in the northernmost corner of Newfoundland and Labrador. The introductory phrase can be interpreted in different ways throughout the film. On the surface, the film follows a handful of Quebec-based skiers in search of an adventure. Intermingled with the thrill of the descent, Nain locals speak to their relationship with the land and the things that complicate it. 

The film is a welcome addition to the 2020 Ottawa Adventure Film Festival, where it will feature as part of the Adventure & Indigenous Culture program, as well as a lineup of Canadian films.

Welcome to Nain OAFF

Still from Welcome to Nain by Émile Dontigny

For Estski, the collective of filmmakers and athletes behind Welcome to Nain, it all started with a picture. After seeing Bishop’s Mitre, a steep mountain in the Kaumajet range, skiing the dramatic peak became a goal.

“It says it in the movie, about a tiny couloir, super aesthetic, so we just wanted to go there… the closest community was Nain,” Pierre-Olivier Bédard, one of the skiers in Welcome to Nain, says.

The group was in touch with a few locals there and had arrangements to get to their ultimate destination via snowmobile. As viewers will see, there are plenty of surprises along the way.

After walking a kilometre to their hotel in 30 below weather, some more prepared for the cold than others, the group arrived at their hotel. Locals gave the small crew a warm welcome in the frosty climate, despite being confused by their presence in the area.

“People we met there, they were really welcoming. They were not really sure what we were doing there. When they see guys like us they think we’re going to work at the mine or for the electricity or whatever,” Bédard says.

Welcome to Nain OAFF

Going from Nain to Ski Canyon- photo by Thomas Thiery

When the group explained they were visiting for a ski trip, locals thought they were being sarcastic. The remote area isn’t exactly a tourist destination. But, as they talked to more people, they were excited to meet some snowboarders in Nain.

“We didn’t have any information that there were people there skiing or snowboarding, so that was a really nice surprise to go there and meet some people who did almost the same thing as we did,” Dontigny says.

Jonathan Lidd, one of 3 snowboarders they met by chance in Nain, was able to attend the premiere of the film in Quebec. “He was the first to bring a snowboard I think, in Nain. So that’s pretty rad,” Bédard says.

Though the trip didn’t go exactly as planned, Dontigny’s vision wasn’t compromised. He was after something organic, the type of story you can only plan once you get there.

“The goal was just to show this part of the earth. Not focusing on the skiing, but also to meet the locals and try to understand what’s going on there,” Dontigny says. “To share how they see their territory and how they use the land there. I think that was the main focus of the film.”

Though the project explores some sobering subject matter such as cultural displacement and global warming, there are also opportunities for joy and celebration of community.

Welcome to Nain OAFF

Photo by Thomas Thiery for Estski

“Something cool they have there is a big fridge for the community. When people go hunting and they have too much, they just bring meat and all the stuff to the fridge,” Bédard says. “So people can go there and they can share that.”

The goal with Welcome to Nain, Bédard says, isn’t to romanticize the terrain or the way of life in either a negative or positive light. He would prefer it if those who watch the film get an accurate picture of life in the North. “…Just see what it is in reality and it’s just people like everybody. That’s also something I think is important in the movie,” he says.