by Austin Webb
One night last February, Chris Crilly got home to 20 messages of congratulation
from friends and family. He had just been awarded the Genie, Canadas
version of the Oscar, for best original music for his work on Atanarjuat:
The Fast Runner.
Although he says only one of the messages was work-related, that should
change with the highly-touted films American and international release
Crilly, who teaches sound at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and in
the Communications Studies Department, is an accomplished composer whose
career as a soundtrack artist began almost by chance.
I was working as a cameraman at the NFB [National Film Board of
Canada] when one day I had lunch with someone Id studied with at
Loyola, said Crilly last week. He said Ive got
$6,000. Would you like to score my film? I walked out of one craft
and right into another.
Prolific music maker
Since then, Crilly has written over 100 scores for documentaries, shorts
and animated films, often in conjunction with the National Film Board.
Hes also worked with folk and roots music artists like Barde and
It was his reputation in the field of folk and ethnic music that Crilly
believes landed him the job scoring Atanarjuat. The film is the
first full-length feature to be written, directed and acted solely by
Inuit. Based on oral storytelling traditions, it follows a story of family
conflict and revenge over two generations. The film has been widely praised,
winning six Genies as well as the Camera dOr for best first feature
at the Cannes Film Festival.
Crilly began by researching various types of Inuit music. I found
it basically breaks up into three groups: throat singing, drumming, and
the types of [narrative] songs you hear in the film. But since the
film already featured a lot of drumming and singing, Crilly was forced
to use some musical license to come up with an engaging score.
The problem was not to sound hackneyed, he said, so
by the time I ended up sitting down to write, I had decided to pull out
all the stops to make it as abstract as possible.
The result is a pastiche of sounds and instruments from around the world,
used sparingly and played mostly by Crilly. Some of the most striking
scenes feature a blend of Australian didgeridoo, Indian percussion and
jews harp. Crillys sparse compositions work to accentuate
both the stark landscape and the sounds of feet squeaking on snow and
howling sled-dogs (also
Crillys work as sound supervisor) that dominate the film.
As Crilly demonstrates, the creative process of a soundtrack artist often
owes much to serendipity.
Theres always one cue that you just cant get. In this
film it was the big scene where the lovers are reunited. It was four in
the morning and I just wanted to play some music; so I picked up my viola
and just started playing and thats the tune that went into
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is now playing at the AMC Forum in downtown