Filming the changing Arctic landscape
Five documentaries to depict the impact of global warming on the North
A coffee shop inside a southern-style hotel seems a strange place for two filmmakers to be talking about their environmentally themed Arctic projects, but as workmen paint over patched walls and a coffee grinder whirrs in the background, Caroline Underwood and Carlos Ferrand seem to transport themselves to the floe edge near Pond Inlet.
Underwood and Ferrand are participating in Arctic Mission – a collection of five documentaries by different filmmakers examining the impact of global warming on the Arctic.
The project involves a three-masted sailing vessel that will carry scientists and filmmakers through the Arctic Archipelago from the Magdalen Islands to Vancouver.
Underwood, who is examining the effects of climate change on wildlife in the North, has just returned from two weeks in Pond Inlet where she and two cameramen (one an underwater filmer) documented what happens at the floe edge at this time of year. Two local guides, Joshua Idlout and Elisha Kasarnale, led the crew.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she says, sipping her coffee. “I’ve been in some wonderful places in my career doing this kind of thing, but it was absolutely magical in a way that’s hard to imagine if you’ve not been on what’s essentially a floating platform that’s changing all the time.”
She wrote in a postcard to a friend that you can experience a range of weather from the worst of a Toronto winter day to being stripped down to a T-shirt, while surrounded by an incredible landscape of snow and ice.
“What I wanted to do was have a place to go where the impact of climate change has yet to be felt really strongly,” she says. “There you’ve got all of the elements that are still in place that make the Arctic marine ecosystem so special.”
The bloom of zooplankton in the spring causes a great influx of fish, seals, walruses, narwhal, polar bears, bowheads and seabirds, she explains.
“It’s just a big feast that’s going on.”
The glaciers that face Pond Inlet have retreated from where they were 20 years ago, she says, but the climate change there isn’t as drastic as in the communities on the west coast of Hudson Bay.
Underwood, who has spent 20 years as a director, producer and screenwriter for the CBC series The Nature of Things, wants to tell her story by following the year’s six traditional Inuit seasons.
“It’s a very telling way because there are various signs, everything from snow conditions, to the sun, to the way animals are behaving, which mark the changes in the year,” she says. “And of course climate change is going to have an impact on that and is already having an impact.”
While in Iqaluit, Underwood and Ferrand will meet with a variety of people, including Commissioner Peter Irniq, Sustainable Development Minister Olayuk Akesuk and Nunavut Wildlife Management Board Chairman Ben Kovic.
“We’re here in part to tell people about our project and to ask their advice because these are not things, like in a fictional film, that are scripted in advance. Our views of these films is evolving as we go along,” she says. “It’s kind of like a net. You start small and everybody gives you the names of people they think you should be talking to.”
Ferrand arrived in the territory’s capital on June 23 and leaves for Cape Dorset on June 28. Originally from Peru, he has 30 years’ experience as a director, screenwriter and cinematographer. His film will focus on the implications of climate change on Inuit.
“It’s quite simple,” Ferrand says. “The warming of the planet affects the Arctic the most so we want to ask the people who live here how it’s affecting their lives and their environment.”
“We don’t come here with an idea of what we want them to tell us, we want to find out what they find important,” he says. “The people who will be in the film will be people who live here.”
Ferrand says he wants to do the majority of his interviews with people while they are at work doing what they usually do, and he wants the interviews to be conducted in Inuktitut so people feel at ease.
“We hope through this [film], people will be more clear on what is happening up here and also more clear on what the Inuit culture is about,” he says.
Underwood says many people in Southern Canada still see the North as a pristine wilderness untouched by what happens elsewhere.
“What I really want to do is bring home to Canadians that this is not a story happening elsewhere in the world,” she says. “There are things we really have to face and think about seriously if we want to see this incredible place to continue to evolve in a natural time frame as opposed to one we’ve interfered with.”