After all the debate and controversy, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – initially designated by President Barack Obama in August of 2016 – is open. Located in northern Penobscot County, on the border of Baxter State Park, the 87,000-acre monument offers exactly the sort of rugged, year-round beauty Mainers have always known about, with our state’s unmatchable scenery on view for hikers, bikers, canoers, skiers and assorted intrepid lookie-loos.
But a quartet of Maine native outdoor enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to bring the new national monument’s uniquely Maine (did I mention rugged?) charms to wider renown. For York native Jamie Walter, Brewer native Cait Bourgault, Chris Shane of Casco and Taylor Walker, who lives in the monument’s backyard in Carrabassett Valley and Millinocket, the quest to share their love of this pristine slice of the great Maine outdoors has taken the form of “Monumental: A Journey Through Katahdin Woods and Waters,” their new 11-minute documentary, encompassing the sights and sounds of their 64-mile circumnavigation of the park via canoe, bicycle and foot in September 2016.
“Chris and I were hiking on the Bigelow Range, and we talked about the need for documentation and promotion of the wilderness of Maine: how special and awesome – and how hardcore it can be in a sense,” said Jamie Walter, the film’s executive producer.
Enlisting fellow outdoor types Bourgault and Walker, who ended up filming the five-day excursion, the group set out to, as Walter put it, “show that Maine’s wilderness is just as important to recognize as anywhere else in the world – Iceland, Norway, Colorado – anywhere.”
Noting that the election of noted anti-environmentalist Donald Trump threw the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters into doubt (which has since settled down – a bit), Walter says that the resulting upheaval was a newsworthy reason to scale back the group’s initial plan for a more wide-ranging (and exhausting-sounding) tour across the whole state, to a more focused portrait of this one suddenly hot-button piece of cool Maine real estate.
That being said, the four reiterated their desire to let the all-outdoor-beauty/no-politics nature of their nature documentary speak for itself. While Walter speaks for the group in saying, “Personally, we are all very much in favor of the monument and want it to remain,” he said that, in making “Monumental,” the group “intentionally didn’t make it as strong” on that score as they could have.
“We’re all strong believers in public lands, but this is such a hot topic, so politicized and polarized, we didn’t want to have 50 percent of our intended audience fall off,” Walter said. Noting that the filmmakers also had their very generous sponsors’ (like Old Town Canoe, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Baxter Brewing and Good To-Go Foods) interests in mind, they whittled down five long and rewarding days of human-powered outdoor filmed activity to just the film’s 11 minutes.
Those five days on foot, bike and boat required some strategic stashing of gear along the way, not so much for the camping aspect (at which the four are experts), but in order to make sure the added filmmaking and photography equipment kept working.
“The logistics of planning a wilderness trip are normally hard enough to figure out on their own,” said editor and cameraman Taylor, adding that some carefully stowed generators and an automobile kept their various devices charged up for the entire five-day excursion. Not that there weren’t challenges, some expected (like Maine’s notorious mosquitoes, although Walter noted that the blackflies were thankfully absent), and some, well, not. Noting her borrowed bike had a set of touchy brakes, Bourgault (who also narrates the film) said the four shared a laugh at how hard a time she was having keeping up until they figured out the issue. “I thought I wasn’t that out of shape,” Bourgault said, laughing.
In the end, Shane said he hopes the brisk, gorgeously shot film will be more eloquent about the benefits of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument than the filmmakers themselves could ever hope to be. Citing the fact that the monument, unlike more established parks around the country, is still “in its infancy,” he urges Mainers to follow in the foursome’s footsteps and explore this truly beautiful and singular Maine attraction just as they did in making their movie. Cameras aren’t required, though, as “Monumental” shows, there’s plenty you’re going to want to show to your friends and family when you get back.
“Monumental: A Journey Through Katahdin Woods and Waters” hit the internet on Jan. 18 and can be seen both on YouTube and the Facebook page of sponsor Old Town Canoes & Kayaks. Between those outlets, a grateful Walter said the film has been viewed more than a quarter million times already and notes that the group is planning a series of screenings (complete with speakers, photos and other attractions) throughout the state in the year to come.
For more information, check out the film’s website, monumentalfilm.me. And then maybe go outside for a nice walk.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starting Friday: “Beuys.” This new documentary about famous, controversial multimedia artist Joseph Beuys is showing at PMA Films at the Portland Museum of Art. Which seems the ideal place, really.
Sunday: “Killing for Love.” Fans of “Serial” and “Making A Murderer” should check out this acclaimed true crime documentary (co-produced by Brunswick’s Louise Rosen) about an infamous 1990 double murder and the conflicting facts suggesting the wrong person may still be in prison. (Also showing until Thursday, Feb. 1 at Brunswick’s Frontier: explorefrontier.com.)