They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is absolutely true for the residents of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, Canada. Home to one of the last open landfills in North America, the Yellowknife dump is a salvager’s delight. These prospectors hunt for objects they can reuse and recycle. Some of the items thrown away are brand new or in perfect condition, others need some TLC. In a town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way.
Director Amy C. Elliott’s documentary Salvage is an intimate portrait of a community in flux. In one of the most isolated areas in North America that’s ever changing with increased government regulation and population growth, the livelihood of these salvagers is in jeopardy. Elliott’s film explores three aspects of this community: the individuals who salvage and their personal motivations in doing so, the dangers of salvaging with exposure to sharp objects and disease and the government officials who are trying to control the landfill to protect the citizens.
Elliott’s film delivers a powerful message about wastefulness and resourcefulness but doesn’t do so in a heavy handed way. The audience is left to come to their own conclusions about how what their own approach to trash and recycling. Part of the fun of watching the film is learning about the individual salvagers and watching as they discover treasures at the dump. Some of the items include wedding dresses, brand new clothes with the tags still on them, Halloween costumes, glass jars, 60 lbs of bagged vermicelli, scraps of wood, antiques, toys, moccasins, photo albums and much more.
One of the biggest takeaways from this film for me was how lazy we are as consumers and the stigma that surrounds resourcefulness. The term “microcosm” is thrown around a lot in the film and Yellowknife dump truly is a microcosm of the community but it’s also a microcosm of society and the inherent dangers with progress. We lose something important when we’re not able take care of ourselves, our community and our planet.
Salvage is a fascinating documentary and viewers will gain perspective on what it means to be part of a consumer culture.
Salvage had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series. Stay tuned as I’ll be interviewing the director Amy C. Elliott for this site!