Secrets of Nahanni: Interview with Marc McPherson

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Have you ever been inspired to uncover secrets and mysteries of the past?

“Secrets of Nahanni” is an upcoming documentary that will follow the journey of a small expedition crew. Made up of a small filmmaking team, river guides and led by Canadian Explorer, TEDx Speaker and Adventure Photographer Dax Justin, their goal is to explore the Nahanni’s “Valley of Headless Men,” to seek out and unearth the rumored mysteries, legends or other “survivors of the past” that still linger today based off the oral histories of the local Dene, Sahtu, and Metis as well as journals of early 20th Century European explorers.

We recently had the opportunity to interview Marc McPherson, a director, filmmaker and explorer. He has always been fascinated with the experiences and history of exploration, through travel and creative studies. He states: “It offers the promise of challenge, discovery and growth on a personal and spiritual level through the exploration of new places, ideas and worlds both present day and in the past. It offers a chance to reconnect to a larger perspective and greater awareness of our world and ourselves.” With the film “Secrets of Nahanni,” he hopes to capture the spirit of the region and its people and share it with a larger audience to help them understand the history and mysteries of the land.

Read on for our interview with Marc, and please make sure to check out the link for their IndieGoGo campaign at the bottom of the page!

What inspired you and your team to go on a river expedition in the Nahanni region and uncover the legends and secrets of its people?
First learned of the Nahanni over 15 years ago while researching for a paper I was working on for my History of Exploration course in University (I got my degree in Communiciations with a minor in Latin American Studies through the University of Calgary) I discovered an old black & white image of Virginia Falls and images of the river valleys and deep canyons of Nahanni and was blown away such a stunning place existed in Canada and I hadn’t heard of it. After further research came across some articles referencing the stories and legends that led to the Nahanni’s nick name of Valley of Headless Men (Deadman Valley). Legends like the McLeod Bros who were found with their heads remvoed and missing and later another prospector named Martin Jorgensen whose cabin mysteriously burned down and was also found with his head missing.
Two years ago the Nahanni popped in my head and I decided to see if there were more books or stories about these mysteries then what I had found before (specifically any that might share some of the Dene, First Nations oral histories) but couldn’t find anything. I was surprised as the other articles, journals & books I read from European/Colonial Canadian explorers & authors mention the Dene had centuries of oral histories and tales relating to Deadman’s Valley and other mysteries in the Nahanni but never elaborated on what those specific stories were and I wanted to know out of curiousity. I figured the only way to know was to travel up to the Nahanni and talk with some of the locals.
Being a filmmaker, that’s when I had the first thought why not make a documentary about the Nahanni. That way I could try to discover and capture some of these oral histories and stories that aren’t recorded as well as get an opportunity to explore this area of Canda that still today few people have even heard of… That’s when I decided I had to make a documentary to explore the Nahanni river valleys and share the experience of its natural wonders to others while at the same time connecting these areas to the legends and mysteries that add another layer of curiousity and character to the region.
What is so intriguing to you about the Nahanni Valley and the local community?
For me it a mix of its stunning landscapes and natural wonders along with its mysterious reputation unknown tales that spark my curiousity.
What do you hope your audience will take away from the folklore and oral histories of the native storytellers?
Our intent with “Secrets of Nahanni” is to share these mysteries and legends, that capture our imagination and curiosity, and use them as a vehicle to introduce the rest that Nahanni has to offer in terms of its natural wonders, sacred places and cultural heritage. We want to connect the stories and legends to the physical and spiritual environment of Nahanni National Park.
What impact do you hope to make with this documentary?
The impact I’m hoping to make is to get more people interested and aware of the Nahanni while also expanding the narrative beyond the more well known European tales. We really want to focus heavily on the Dene oral histories and legends to give multiple perspectives and a richer, deeper understanding of the mysteries and cultural landscape of the Nahanni Valley.
Why do you think storytelling is so important in preserving history and learning from the past?
Storytelling is important because it engages the both our minds and our hearts. Stories engage us on an emotional level and are an important element in every country and culture – people remember stories better than facts.
What are your goals in filming this expedition?
Our main goal with this documentary is to follow the journey of our expedition crew as we explore along the South Nahanni River to seek out and document the areas of rumoured mysteries, legends or other “survivors of the past” that may still linger today while giving a sense of the natural richness and beauty of this area that has made it such a sacred and special place.
What are some of the risks and challenges that you expect to face during filming? What are your plans to overcome them?
Our biggest challenge with this adventure documentary will be the risks associated with a river expedition in a remote region of the world. Wildlife such as bears, wolves, and moose will be one challenge along with white water rapids, rain, snow (it is northern Canada), sun exposure, hydration, keeping warm, and other charms of backwoods ventures will be our main challenges to manage.
To meet these challenges we have:
  • A world class film crew with experience filming in remote locations and extreme weather.
  • The best in the business guiding us with Nahanni Wild whose decades of river guiding experience in the Nahanni and wilderness first aid & swift-water rescue training will ensure we are safe.
  • Emergency communication & support for worst case scenarios such as med evacs or field rescues.
  • Tried and tested film gear and equipment for rugged, wet and remote conditions.

You and your team are currently fundraising though a crowdfunding campaign to help raise awareness and enable the project to be developed. Can you tell us more about the campaign and your goals with it?

Our Indiegogo campaign has two main goals. Our first goal is to fundraise enough money to help cover the travel, gear and crew costs associated to do this multi-week river expedition and film the documentary as well as enable us to film the local Dene oral histories. The 2nd goal is to build awareness and an established fan base for this project by getting people to like and follow our Facebook page and other social media marketing. This will help us to stand out and attract broadcasters and distributors to this documentary who get bombarded with pithces all the time.

Check out their Indiegogo campaign here:

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