| 1 h 26 min

This feature-length documentary follows naturalist Bill Mason on his journey by canoe into the Ontario wilderness. The filmmaker and artist begins on Lake Superior, then explores winding and sometimes tortuous river waters to the meadowlands of the river's source. Along the way, Mason paints scenes that capture his attention and muses about his love of the canoe, his artwork and his own sense of the land.

Mason also uses the film as a commentary on the link between God and nature and the vast array of beautiful canvases God created for him to paint. Features breathtaking visuals and exciting whitewater footage, with a musical score by Bruce Cockburn.

For more background info on this film, visit the NFB.ca blog.

In Waterwalker Mason was aiming for a visual poem on his love of nature and canoeing. The NFB was interested in a documentary for television but Mason was against this, deciding instead to shoot more footage and bring the film up to feature length for theatrical distribution. Some of the money had to come from a co-producing agency, IMAGO films, because many at the Film Board didn’t feel the film had enough potential. Even when shooting was finished, Mason had a great deal of trouble convincing his producers that his film had enough structure to make it interesting. Mason re-worked the film and wrote a new narration to complement what he had tried to capture visually. Bruce Cockburn was interested in the project and signed on to write and record the musical score. The result is a haunting work that blends seamlessly with the strong visuals. The film can best be described as an ode to the majesty of nature (Lake Superior in particular) and an affirmation of Mason’s strong religious beliefs. Mason canoes throughout Lake Superior and stops occasionally to paint a spectacular waterfall or other scene, all the while talking about spirituality in nature and humans. Unfortunately at the time of Waterwalker’s completion, the NFB was still only interested in selling the film to television. Consequently Mason resigned and bought the distribution rights himself. After premiering it at the 1984 Montreal World Film Festival, Mason rented a movie theatre in Ottawa and released the film commercially. It had an extended run in Ottawa and became a local hit (6 weeks). The film would eventually play commercially across the country. The film was also a huge success on the home video market and on television. It remains to this day (in my opinion) his greatest film and continues to be one of the NFB’s biggest sellers on DVD.

Albert Ohayon
From the playlist: Bill Mason: Beyond the wild, beyond the paddle

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  • director
    Bill Mason
  • producer
    Bill Mason
  • editing
    Bill Mason
  • narrator
    Bill Mason
  • executive producer
    Wilber Sutherland
    Dean Peterson
  • associate producer
    Margaret Pettigrew
    Kathleen Shannon
  • photography
    Ken Buck
  • sound
    Alan Geldart
  • sound editing
    Alan Geldart
  • re-recording
    Joe Grimaldi
    Austin Grimaldi
  • music
    Bruce Cockburn
    Hugh Marsh

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  • WilliamD

    Still my favourite NFB film.

    WilliamD, 26 Jun 2015
  • MarkThomas

    I have looked for this film on and off on DVD for several years and only ever seen region specific copys, not for the UK where I am based. Accidentally stumbled on your website love it watched online am currently downloading in HD having purchased MP4. A truly fantastic film Bill Mason what a Ledgend Its dark here but I want to get my canoe out even more than usual. Thanks NFB for a great resorce.

    MarkThomas, 10 Mar 2013
  • sidney

    I rented this in 1984 when VHR`s were new, it may very well be the film i ever rented. I recently found it online and have only watched it now about 15x. I have always been fascinated with canoes. This film is magical. Since, i have retired and moved to Wawa, Ontario; a paradise, but please don`t tell. This was filmed on my doorstep, hence the new red Nova Craft prospector is on order and i get to explore some of Bill Mason`s favourite rivers on the north shore of Lake Superior. It is Jan. 27, 2012 so i have a few months to wait! (please don`t die before the spring!) ps...Bill`s daughter Becky Mason is giving a seminar in London, Ontario this weekend at Nova Craft Canoe (The Paddle Shop) but i am too far away.

    sidney, 27 Jan 2012
  • snyderman76

    My favorite film, I remember renting this from the library as a kid, I still love to watch it as much as i did then. Makes me eager for canoeing season!

    snyderman76, 21 Jan 2012
  • MissMossy

    I have found that as the years go by, my yearning to be on the water and exploring has only increased. I am bursting at the seams and it is the end of January, -24 today. I think I'll take an art class to prepare for spring!

    MissMossy, 24 Jan 2011
  • origamiblue2010

    Thank you NFB for making this available. What a lovely masterpiece !

    origamiblue2010, 22 Jan 2011
  • mspainter

    This has been my favorite film of all time. I have about worn out my video and now view it on line. As a painter and canoeist, I find Bill Mason's master piece both therapeutic for my mind and heart.

    mspainter, 13 Jan 2011
  • SomeGoodAdventure

    Why did it take me so many years to finally watch this. A masterpiece. "What is it about this business about scaring yourself half to death that seems to be fun" Bill Mason

    SomeGoodAdventure, 23 Dec 2010
  • julioepalomino

    I always thought of myself as a naturalist but had never discovered my calling. Now that I have seen this film after buying my first canoe, I know why I have always felt this way about nature. In my world God is nature and nature is God. There is no better way of expressing our believe than through the admiriration of nature. Thank you for filming this and letting me and others share your adventure. Julio.

    julioepalomino, 9 Jun 2010
  • Loubaril

    Best Movie of all times......

    Loubaril, 27 May 2010

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Waterwalker, Bill Mason, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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