Survival Prayer is a journey to the edge of the world. Following individual food harvesters as they gather and prepare for the winter, the film celebrates the modern lifeways of a remote indigenous community and bears witness to a profound relationship between individuals and the land that sustains them.
The story takes place in Haida Gwaii, an archipelago drifting off the northwestern edge of the North American continent. Formerly known as the Queen Charlottes, Haida Gwaii's diverse geography supports an unusual abundance of animal and vegetable life that has sustained its inhabitants for countless generations.
In the past century, commercial logging, over-fishing, and invasive species have compromised the availability of traditionally harvested foods and threatened the long-term viability of these practices. Compounding this ecological damage is the imminent extinction of the Haida language and loss of traditional knowledge.
Naanii Mary Swanson, a last speaker, frames this portrait of age-old traditions at risk. Against the spectacular scenery of the North Pacific coastline, her ancient words set the tone for detailed views of modern life, in which the labor of survival — cutting seaweed fronds, pulling salmon from nets, plucking young spruce tips — speaks to timeless rhythms that still retain strands of sacred ritual.
With scenes that favor the authority of silent acts and a rich visual vocabulary — compared by Werner Herzog to the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich — Survival Prayer vividly illuminates the points at which nature and culture join to sustain human life.
An intimate ethnographic reflection, this meditative encounter with the Haida people's traditional food systems reveals poignant possibility amid deep loss.