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.