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Northern Light cover photo

Northern Light 2013

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Lisa Kjerulff
Directed by Nick Bentgen
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Sociology, Area Studies

Date Entered: 07/25/2014

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

The crush of the recession is evident in this exploration of working class families and working class values in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Jobs are scarce but families are somehow able to pull together and exist on shared incomes from part time jobs and the rare paycheck earned driving tractor trailer. Essentially, this is a view of three families’ abilities to cope with a stagnating economy in a rural area. Their ultimate hope is in breaking out of their economic desperation through work, religion, or education, augmented by the longstanding dream of their family team winning top prize in the annual 500 mile snowmobile race on the ice.

The filmmaker takes the viewer into intimate glimpses into the lives of his subjects over the course of several years, winter and summer, including participation in two snowmobile races. The cold is always a factor: fall and winter scenes of family meals, homework and socializing are characterized by everyone wearing hooded sweatshirts and jackets. Participants in snowmobile shop work and strategy sessions are similarly clothed. For testing, racing and spectating in the subzero cold everyone is outfitted in snowmobile suits, heavy gloves, and helmets or other headgear to combat exposure to the elements. Cinematography, film and sound editing are excellent. From close-up family scenes in the households to racing snowmobiles in ice fog, in twilight and under the lights … the range of settings, temperatures and conditions is exceptionally well captured.

This video is highly recommended. Children born into poor urban environments can often be seen as trapped by circumstances in a life of poverty. It’s not much different in the Upper Peninsula for the working poor. Families there are held together by their love and commitment to each other, their sacrifice for each other. This is sometimes augmented by a religious faith. What families do is hope to provide a future, a way out, for their children, sometimes through education, sometimes through hard work, sometimes through the promise of success in a big snowmobile race. In a country of such privilege, it is worthwhile to be reminded that for many, opportunity is a rare occurrence. With the help of films like Northern Light, perhaps we can be reminded of our privilege, and perhaps begin devising a means of providing opportunities.


  • Most Innovative Feature, Visions du Réel, 2013
  • Best Cinematography, New Orleans Film Festival, 2013