Spectres of Shortwave ★★★★★

I was so glad to finally track this film down and my goodness it was in no way a disappointment.

A slightly unconventional documentary discussing the life and death of Radio Canada International's (RCI) shortwave transmitter facility, this artistic film is predominantly made up of long, lingering shots of the transmitter towers, overlaid with the audio of interviews with folks who had something to say about RCI and the towers themselves.

The shots have a stark beauty. The setting - amongst low-lying ground, often shown in winter - can be considered bleak, but the scene is at times romantic and comforting - particularly against the night sky or at dusk with the red glow of the towers' beacons. Other shots show details and the interiors of much of the facility's equipment and buildings, and the footage has a wonderful grain and colour to it. The photography has been done with the utmost of care and intent.

The audio is also impeccable, and Christie evidently managed to coax some fascinating insights out of people who have lived near the facility or worked on it. There is humour and warmth in these interviews, as well as the inevitable heartache that surrounds the shutdown of such a facility.

The closure and eventual demolition of the transmission site itself in the film's final act is surprisingly affecting. The film spends just the right amount of time showing the towers slowly falling one by one onto the snowy land around them, all the while soundtracked by field recordings (I believe) made by the film-maker at the site which capture the resonations and murmurings of the towers and their array of guy wires and other paraphernalia.

This is a slow-burning, very effective documentary which shines just the right amount of light onto what is obviously quite a niche subject. The level of care that was put into the production of this film is clear from the quality of the audio and pictures, just as much as the tenderness with which the subject itself is dealt. For a reasonably long film it is well-paced, and the range of subjects - both visually and in terms of the interviewees and subjects - ensure that interest is sustained throughout, right up until the arc is closed and the facility is slowly deconstructed.