As I prepare for my Arctic Fieldwork in Grise Fiord, quite a few people have asked if there is anything they can do to support me. I am thinking about how best to do this. In the meantime I have an Amazon list of kit that I need. It’s here. Thank you.
Currently, I am Artist in Residence in the Shetland Archive in Lerwick by day, cataloguing the Jenny Gilbertson collection of papers, sound files and images. By night, I am planning, preparing and fundraising for my fieldwork in Arctic Canada, scheduled from June to December 2018.
Following Gilbertson’s “footprints in the snow”, this research trip will allow me to revisit and reconnect with the Inuit people of Coral Harbour and Grise Fiord who Gilbertson lived with and filmed in the 1970s. Through my own filming I will visually explore the way she built and sustained trust and how she – a white woman – used her power as a filmmaker and theirs as a subject. Following PhD submission this film will be re-edited for broadcast/ cinema release, offering a long-needed examination of her work and the particular way she engaged with the people she filmed while asking, what can documentary filmmakers today learn from Jenny Gilbertson?
Julia Horton from the Sunday Times did a piece on my research and plans here.
A friend, one whose questioning keeps me in check, asked why I was spending so much time in the archive when I should be “in training” for the Arctic. Sadly/gladly I am not going on an expedition: I will not be hauling a sledge with 50 days supply of food and making a break for the pole. Where I’ll be will be in an a different, perhaps even more unknowable terrain: inside or alongside the thought processes and dilemmas Gilbertson – an outsider – made and negotiated as she made a film about her Inuit friends’ way of life. Spending time with the traces of these thought processes and dilemmas that Gilbertson left behind in letters and diaries whilst learning about her and her subjects’ lives in the Arctic feels like the right kind of preparation.
That said, I am redoubling my efforts at learning Inuktitut, have upped my activity levels and am constantly googling multiple layers in filmic colours that will keep me warm as I hang around in temperatures of minus 30 degrees celsius trying to get a shot. I know I need a multiplicity of efforts to get me ready for six months in the Arctic.
James Taylor interviewed me for his Creative Life series of podcasts. We spoke about the making of Clavel and the relationship I had with James Robert, the crofter I filmed over a year. We also talked about appreciating the beginning of something (we all want to get to the end) and the importance of encouragement (giving and receiving).
Hear it here. And have a listen through his other podcasts. He’s spoken to some fascinating folk.
I had as many questions for James as he had for me so maybe one day I’ll interview him.
Image: This is one of my favourite pictures of James Robert and myself in the house he stayed in to when he moved out of Clavel. He would never let me take my boots off when I came to see him.
I had a dream where it was raining and I was at my desk writing about the sound of it hitting the window. When the rain stopped I felt I should turn what I had written into past tense as it didn’t feel right to be writing about something happening in present tense when it wasn’t happening anymore. I changed the words. Then it started to rain again so I told myself, if I was quick, I could turn it back into present tense. As I was shifting tense I made mistakes. The rain became lighter. Then it stopped. I looked at my words. Some were behind me and some were in front of me. I realised I was awake.
Note: I am keeping an ‘ethical dilemma diary’ to document and reflect on my thinking while I explore the ethical considerations in making a film. I dream a lot about about being on the inside of a decision which means dreaming is like being awake.
I am learning Inuktitut but I am finding it very difficult. I have studied a language before (Italian) but with that, there was so many roots I could connect with, so much that I could see. This is different. I keep going back to the beginning to try to find a way to bring a visual memory to the simplest terms. Then an exchange with Mrs Breslin, a neighbour 20 years ago, came to mind and finally I have a way of remembering.
How can he be so beautiful yet so murderous?