Benjamin McGregor highlights hometown in Craig Cardiff’s song “Yellowknife”
David Eusebio // Contributor
While many absorbed content during lockdown, fourth-year Motion Picture Arts Program (MOPA) student Benjamin McGregor found an opportunity to create content while living in Yellowknife.
Canadian folk singer Craig Cardiff wanted to create a music video for his latest single “Yellowknife,” but couldn’t travel to the Northwest Territories due to the pandemic. As an alternative, Cardiff collaborated with Western Arctic Moving Pictures and NWT Film Commission to launch a 48-hour music video contest for local filmmakers. Three winners received cash prizes, with McGregor taking home first prize.
“It was nice to be recognized because not that many people from up there are going into this field,” said McGregor. “It’s pretty cool to have the support from my friends and my family and my friend’s families and my friends of friends’ families.”
This isn’t the first 48-hour contest he’s entered. He’s participated in the Vancouver Blood N Guts festival, a 48-hour indie horror film contest, where he won best student film. He’s also participated in an unrelated annual 48-hour music video contest in Yellowknife.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said McGregor, as he shuffled around his living room to find a spot with the best lighting, as any film student would. “There’s a lot of pressure to make it, but it’s nice to have something complete by the end of two days. You can spend a ton of time on prep for projects, but nothing will get you a product as fast as something like this, and it’s usually better than you think it will be given the time that you have.”
McGregor discovered the contest through his internship at Western Arctic Moving Pictures. “It kind of felt like a no-brainer to do it because I’m always looking for film-related stuff up there,” said McGregor. “There usually isn’t a lot, especially larger productions or things aside from my day-to-day intern stuff. So, I definitely felt like I had to do that and take advantage of it.”
“I wanted to film a bit of a glorified weekend and of a summer in Yellowknife with my friends.”
McGregor ran around the city to capture as many unique characteristics of Yellowknife as he could for the music video. “If you’re from Yellowknife, you know exactly what [everything] is and where you are,” said McGregor, pointing out a scene featuring a woman dancing on a rocky viewpoint. “It’s called Pilot’s Monument.”
“When I’m at school and I mention that I’m from Yellowknife, people will have no clue what’s up there or what it’s like,” added McGregor. “They’re assuming it’s cold and that there isn’t much of anything. I wanted to show the unique qualities of it and—for people who have no idea what’s up there—that there’s actually a lot of people with a lot of culture.”
“[This dock is] right beside Great Slave Lake,” explained McGregor as a shot of a woman dancing appeared on screen. “The water levels in Yellowknife were quite high this year. I wanted her to dance in the water because that would also be [a] very Yellowknife [thing to do].”
McGregor had conflicting thoughts about his new-found media attention. “It’s weird,” he admitted as he leaned into the webcam. “I wasn’t really expecting this much attention, which is nice, but you know…I feel like if there’s any more, people would start to get a little sick of it. Like ‘okay, Ben, I get it. You won.’ I can see that [happening].”
For McGregor, MOPA has helped strengthen his problem-solving skills in the film industry, especially under tight deadlines. Practicing cinematography in the program has been an asset, and the countless pitch documents written for producing and directing classes prepared him for applying for grants.
After graduation, McGregor plans to work in Vancouver and work his way into making films in Yellowknife. “There’s a lot of interesting scenery; [it’s] a completely different climate and terrain that isn’t seen in mainstream media. I really want to have that in the movies I make.”
Along with the Yellowknife setting, McGregor wants to tell stories about topical issues such as the climate crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement and addiction.
McGregor has a few projects lined up, including a short film entitled “The Day the Rocket Left” premiering online at the Brooklyn Sci-Fi Film Festival. “Greenwood,” his entry for the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, will be broadcasted on the Super Channel in late October.