Ninety years ago filmmaker Robert Flaherty released Nanook of the North, a silent film completed with an Inuit family on Hudson Bay in Northern Quebec. Chronicling “life and love” as lived “in the actual arctic”, it was immediately hailed for its documentation of an “exotic” people at the brink of tremendous development and social change. It was also considered the world’s first documentary film.
As I head north this week to make films in the Hudson Bay on climate change and polar bear research with Polar Bears International, it is wild to think how much the medium of documentary and non-fiction filmmaking has changed since its Arctic inception nearly a century ago. From written inter-titles and the live scores of the past, to IMAX and participatory films for policy made by the Inuit of today, things have changed and so has the environment.
Today, the people and ecology of the Arctic face a dire and uncertain future. When pack ice does not form, polar bears and the people of the north have difficulty securing food sources. When tundra thaws additional methane is released into the atmosphere increasing positive feedback loops. PCB and Mercury has been transported by ocean currents invisibly from industry and populations of the lower latitudes northward, into the fatty tissue of marine and land mammals, causing reproductive, neurological, and immune system dysfunctions in Arctic populations. This interconnectedness of the North to activity of other world regions is undeniable, what is to come has been projected, what is happening is undeniable.
The simple act of flying to the arctic to make movies, emitting 1,342 lbs of CO2 enroute, seems ludicrous to the critical eye. However in a continent where 2/3 of the countries did not sign the Kyoto protocol, the US and Canada remain two of the top ten consumers of energy per capita in the world. There is no doubt that individual or systemic change in our own nations, in other words, “worrying” about changing climate and acting on it, can have real impacts.
Aside from an idealist philosophy on climate change and conservation, we are all headed into uncertain, thawing and flooded ground(insert Bloomberg cover here) and it will take all sorts to innovate a livable future. As skiers, filmmakers or anyone else who likes to travel, our sustained curiosity will take us into other world regions, emitting carbon along the way, returning home with our eyes a little bit wider than when we’d left. However, these experiences allow us to see our regions with new eyes and as the philosophy of Howard Zinn notes vis a vis You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, complacency or non-participation isn’t an option and the pursuit of truth(s) requires active agents.
Stay tuned for videos and stills from the field.