As a young man, Jonathon Stanton felt most alive exploring the natural, rugged mountain wilderness of Western North America. Pushing the physical and mental limits of his own body while taking considerable risks climbing and skiing peaks, Stanton developed an intimate connection with the natural world.
“That was my entry point to manhood, and my place in the universe,” Stanton said.
As a filmmaker out of Vancouver, Canada, Stanton infuses his passion for athleticism and the outdoors into his productions. His new documentary, Games of the North: Playing for Survival, is no exception. Games of the North showcases traditional Indigenous sports of the Arctic from the perspective of the athletes themselves. The sports incorporate survival skills necessary to inhabit the extreme Arctic environment.
“These games were an essential part of survival,” Stanton said.
One game, entitled The Laughing Game, involves two people sitting across from each other. One person does all they can to make the other laugh. If the other person can’t keep a straight face, they lose! This type of laughing game can alleviate the mental strain from the two months of Arctic winter darkness.
“These games are specifically designed to bring together the community, and raise the strength of all its individuals,” Stanton said.
Another game, The Ear Pull, also involves two people sitting across from one another. A long loop of string is wrapped around both individuals’ ears. Each player tries to outlast the other’s pain tolerance as they pull their heads back, increasing the tension on their ears. The game increases circulation to help protect from frostbite.
High kicking games are played to keep one’s body in shape for hunting during the frigid winter months when outdoor exercise is minimal. A kickable target is hung at varying distances off the ground, and players attempt to come from beneath and kick it. The kicks can be executed in numerous ways and often result in athletes getting airborne. Some athletes can kick the target when it’s over 7 feet off the ground!
“One thing about the Native games is that they teach the same principles as a lot of adventure sports,” Stanton said. “It takes a lot of team work, and it takes a lot of camaraderie and it raises the personal best of each person... but it can be done in living rooms.”
Stanton began his film career as an apprentice, working for producers and taking every opportunity to gain experience on set, behind the camera and in the editing room.
“I’m not too proud to say I even shot weddings,” he said.
In 1998, Stanton founded Starseed Media Inc., a creative multimedia organization committed to producing content that weaves together traditional and emerging forms of media. Stanton’s personal production style, and that of Starseed Media, is multifaceted, and includes short films, documentaries, commercials, music videos and multimedia concerts. Games of the North is the first feature film Stanton has written, directed and produced.
“My next films are not going to be documentary, they’re going to be narrative,” Stanton said. “My next film is actually a horror movie... in 3-D!”
Interview conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer