Thursday, 20 December 2012

The End Is Here...

It finally happened. Despite the 24 hour darkness trying to eat our souls, we finished the film. As of Wednesday, December 12, 2012, we completed the epic journey that is There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void. 

After five solid, intense weeks of post-production, and almost two years of planning, writing, devising, conceiving...we landed the ship again. 

(I'm reading about Shakleton's journey at the moment, so all my metaphors will be nautical)

Following the first full screening, we received the best compliment I could have hoped to receive. One of the film's major funders, Jesper of the North Norwegian Film Centre (NNFS), shook my hand and said with the greatest sincerity, "Thank you for this. I've never seen anything like it. It's really unique."
It was a very moving moment.
Here are some final images from our time in Norway... 

"The drawing board," 

 The brilliant audio post-production suite at Aurora Filmlyd

And the film's wrap party with all our incredible Norwegian supporters and funders (Jesper of the NNFS seen at the far left, raising a glass...)

And with that, we say "Goodbye Tromso". Like a true love, you  have been both kind and cruel to us. I hope to see you again soon...

More news about screenings will be posted here soon, stay tuned...

    Sunday, 2 December 2012

    There Is No Sunrise Here

    We've passed the point of 24 hour darkness. After November 21, the sun officially does not rise in Tromso any more. It still gets light during the day, but that's only a twilight, the sun just skimming below the horizon. It makes some spectacular lighting effects, making the mountains look like cardboard cutouts at its brightest, and turning everything an electric grey / blue as the sun disappears again.

    It means daylight hours, working hours, no longer mean the same thing any more. It's hard to work an entire day when "sunset" starts at 1pm...

    A journalist and photographer from Nordlys visited the house to talk to us about the making of the film. We sat around the dining table, exhausted, pontificating on art, the Arctic, death, cinema, environmentalism and everything in between.

    Joe Lewis - composer and now Music Supervisor - arrived from London.

    As the edit continued, we  also started to get more music in from the incredible musicians we're working with on this film. Just yesterday, we received a track so beautiful, so epic that we were - first - stunned into silence (was it shock? Jealousy?) then bouncing around the room in fits of excitement. The tune was heartbreaking and momentous, the sound of a giant ship creaking, and Japanese imperial armies swarming over a hill into battle. We could only stare at each other for a few minutes afterwards in disbelief. Thank you Per and Nils...

    Out running last night with Joe, we saw the first few streaks of the Northern Lights gathering momentum above our heads, but we kept running underneath them. Around ten minutes into the run, we both looked up and immediately had to stop running and just stare. The Aurora Borealis was directly above our heads, swirling around like sand blown across a highway. Purple and green. It looked organic, and it was hard to believe it wasn't sentient. It continued like that, alive but not alive, seemingly communicating with us, for five minutes. Then we kept running. Back in the house, we agreed that was the closest we'd come in a long time to a religious experience. We imagined hunters 10,000 years ago seeing the Aurora for the first time, terrified at what could only be seen as the hand of some God, reaching down for them.

    We don't have a photo of the Northern Lights, so here's the face of concentration instead:

    Sunday, 18 November 2012

    A Lot Of Ice, Not As Cold

    It's hard running on ice. Luckily I have these:

    (Spikes on my shoes)

    It was warmer yesterday, so the ice melted, then froze again in big sheets along the road, and - slightly more dangerous - along the hill outside our house. When you start sliding you don't stop. The driveway is just a long sheet of pure ice now.

    When it gets dark out here, there's a moment just before complete darkness when the sky becomes deep, electric blue, and what's left of the sun begins to reflect off the snow. Everything glows, looking so surreal it reminds me of a film set. The lighting looks artificial.

    And into that electric blue darkness, that grey water, we sometimes jump. For the thrill, for the challenge. For the reminder of how cold it really is. Here's proof:

    That's one way to get out of the house. On Wednesday night, we head for the centre of the city to see a night of music as part of the Barents Jazz festival. Kohib, (aka Øivind Sjøvoll) is an ambient musician based here in Tromso who we'll be working with on the film's soundtrack (along with five or six other Arctic Ambient musicians). This soundtrack is an experiment. With so many unknowns, we decide the more we know about the musicians the better, so we say hello to Øivind and talk briefly before his show. The artistic community here has a unique dynamic. They have fun (London, take note). They're open and friendly, and not pretentious (London, take note). They collaborate and support each other (London, take note). They are open and experimental (London, take note). 

    (I could go on, but you get the idea...)   

    The lights in the venue are blue and red. And a white chandelier. The beer is very expensive - but that's to be expected. Sometimes you need to roll with the punches to enjoy yourself, to break out of the warm Arctic cabin for the night. 

    By Saturday, we have a rough version of the first 15 minutes of the film to show to a festival programmer here. He's interested in screening the film. Images, music, archive, voice over: all the elements finally come together in a delicate balance to tell our story. We decide to take Sunday off, to give ourselves a chance to breath...

    Wednesday, 14 November 2012

    Listening To Scenes From The Shining While Running In The Arctic

    I terrified myself last night. I went for a late night run around the lodge (not so late, it was only 8pm but the sun had already set hours earlier). Around 1km from the house there are no longer any street lights so my head lamp (thank you John Arvid) was the only thing lighting a small patch of snow in front of me. I was listening to my favourite podcast (thank you Adam and Josh) and, in the middle of their discussion about horror, they played that seminal scene of The Grady Twins trying to lure Danny to his death..."come play with us Danny...forever...and ever...and ever..." This is not the sort of thing you want to hear while out running on your own in the pitch black surrounded by unfamiliar forest and snow.

    Luckily, the Grady Twins didn't get me. I survived to see the sun the next day.
    This is what it looks like, hitting the snowy beach outside our lodge:

    When we're not outside freezing (or diving into this water, as Mar and I did today) we're editing. Here - as a monument to time and space, effort and coffee and the filmmaking process - is the first cut made on this film:

    Remember this moment, ladies and gentlemen. The first cut is the deepest.

    Monday, 12 November 2012

    A Little Less Sunlight Every Day

    We are in a lodge, at the top of the hill, overlooking the water below. The sun rises to the left of our window as we're eating breakfast. It sets to the right, only five hours or so later.

    The lodge is used as a retreat for treating alcoholics and addicts, but we're guests here when it's not in constant use. Every morning, Jan or Bernard arrive at 9am with a few of their young clients, eat breakfast, and say goodbye. They go to work. "Work is the best therapy," John Arvid says...

    In the afternoon, there are chainsaws outside, cutting down branches. They're installing a satellite dish here (For us? I hope not. I don't think we'll have time to watch tv...)

    When the sky is clear, the temperature drops. The mountains in the distance come into view, then they are slowly edged by orange, then purple, then electric blue when the sun fades behind them. The days are so short it seems late at 2pm.

    When we get restless in the edit suite, we walk downhill (trying not to slip to our deaths on the black ice), crunching through the snow, and stand at this beach, feeling the cold air in our faces and admiring the view.

    This is what we look like basking in the sun at -1ºc:

    And this is what the edit looks like so far:

    Tuesday, 6 November 2012

    Tromso, in a few more hours

    These are our last few hours in London before we fly, tomorrow morning, to the Arctic city of Tromso to finish this film / adventure.
    Here's where we'll be staying:

    (Apparently the lodge we're staying in used to be an insane asylum. Appropriate...)
    And, in this land of the midnight sun, we're heading up there in time for the "noon moon." Within two weeks, there'll be constant darkness, 24 hours a day.
    And thus, it begins...

    Friday, 20 January 2012

    Bridges, Mountains

    Walk across the Bruvegen Bridge, over the Norwegian Sea. To the north, you can see the sun for the few hours in the day that it is above the horizon. There is no "day" here, only a glimpse of the sun. To the south, frozen mountains.

    Below you, ships are waiting to be repaired in the freezing water. The water is crystal clear. I remember diving in while in Svalbard. My hands froze in pain and then numbness in three and a half minutes. 

    A video loop in the Arctic Museum reminds us that there are no wild Polar Bears in mainland northern Norway. The beautiful project "Nanoq: Flat Out And Bluesome" hunted and documented all the stuffed Polar Bears in the UK.

    Somehow, I find it hard to believe the ships in the museum actually made it to the Arctic. They look too small:

    We spend our day in workshops, deconstructing and reconstructing our poor, struggling, starving film ideas. I tried to set my film in 2044, it didn't work. I still like the idea of "a documentary shot in the future" We hear about Visionary Violence and Norway's solitary, mesmerising space odyssey.

    Is this city in stasis during winter months? I can no longer follow day and night, only looking at my watch tells me where I am and what I should be doing (eating? Sleeping? Waking up? Feeling tired?)

    Wednesday, 18 January 2012

    Tromso Black Ice

    Tromso is the northernmost film festival in the world. It has a lot of superlatives. Most wooden houses in Norway. Highest suicide rate in the world. Northernmost city in the world. Northernmost mosque in the world. Northernmost university in the world. If you build something significant here, chances are it will be the northernmost of that thing in the world.

    But I have beaten Tromso at its own game. I have used the world's northernmost ATM and it's not in Tromso.

    Never mind. The Tromso International Film Festival is on.

     Mar and I are here to pitch There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void. It is a semi-fictional, science fiction documentary - an ecological film for the 21st century, part expedition document, part meditation on mankind's relationship to nature, part surreal art experiment, part love-letter to the Arctic, part impressionistic examination of loss.

    It features several of my good friends and radical thinkers. It features the incredible landscape of the Norwegian Arctic. It features a stuffed Polar Bear and a silver inflatable whale.

    Tromso is an island, so don't think of using the water as a navigation tool, it will only confuse you. There is invisible black ice on the roads, but despite rumours it isn't that cold. The cheapest meal costs £15.00  

    Herzog's Into The Abyss plays at 11pm. It is simple, messy, beautiful and tragic. He never cares about aesthetics. He is more removed here than in other films. He is quieter and more respectful. Burkett's father is heartbreaking, and perhaps the most honest person in the film. The cinema seats are very comfortable:

    Tomorrow, there might be a boat museum that we need to visit in the city before more screenings and the first meeting with the rest of the Below Zero group. Norway loves its boat museums.

    This image wasn't taken in Norway, but I liked it so I've included it here:

    Tuesday, 1 November 2011

    Edges Are Sharp, Edges Are Blurred (Arctic journal #8)

    Oct 2, 2011
    Carry the water. It pools at the back of the Zodiac, tilting back into the sea. At the surface of the water, the air is freezing. Scrape the bottom of the boat, landing on a gravel shore. It is warmer here - some hills of snow, ground spill gently into a bay of still water. Snow melts into gravel and mud beaches. Algae coral look like flakes of cereal, grain on the beach.

    We are meerkats popping our heads up and down over the snow hills, looking for our own spaces to work, or stare, or record, or perform. I stand, listening, still into the wind. I hear cracking and rumbling of thunder, detonations. The ice is active, falling into the sea, tearing itself apart. The earth splitting.
    There are only two colours here: black and white. They blend into grey. The haze moves in and out. Sometimes the far ridge is clear and close, other times it is hidden behind the fog with undefined edges, in contrast to the sharpness of the cold. All edges are sharp on my skin in this dry cold, but all edges are blurred in the landscape. (in the snow, there are no sharp edges).

    Landscape itself does little for me unless I can activate it. (Sophia says "humans are psychologically programmed to be most interesting in faces.") I need to build up heat under these layers.
    "Are you going to run?"
    I need to provoke it, seduce it, antagonise it, threaten it with diminution. We have guns, we are already antagonising it. We are looking for white on white (hollow fibres that refract light to look white).
    Marcelo searches, tags, categorises, measures, photographs the objects he tags. To identify and locate.

    ARCTIC 109: the sound of deep wind and ice crystals hitting the microphone
    ARCTIC 113: standing still on a hill, looking over the bay, Paul motionless.
    ARCTIC 111: Walking slowly towards Jessica, from blurry to in focus. She is photographing.
    ARCTIC 139: Marcelo asleep, silhouetted by the porthole. Engine, water gurgling, deep breathing.
    ARCTIC 116: Michelle, ship in the distance, her gun, her boots, her face. She's looking in the distance for Polar Bears.

    These artists are numerous aspects of the same person. How does each approach the environment? How does each interpret this event? These circumstances?
    (Jessica, mourning, in a jacket and veil, collecting light with solar panels. Will she encounter Paul's fossil fuel plant?)

    ARCTIC 106: Boots walking in snow: clear sound, crisp.

    Saturday, 1 October 2011

    The Clarity Of Distant Mountains

    The clarity of distant mountains is unbelievable. You could wrap your fingers around them. They are too clear. They look too close, I understand how early Arctic explorers made the fatal mistake of sailing for a distant landscape, thinking it was only a few miles away.

    Svalbard: "I heard nobody dies here, nobody is born here."

    We sail into snow, the light gets bluer, dimmer, bluer. Snow falls thicker, it cracks in the air, chrysalises. Breaks as you walk through it. Look outside the boat, and you see only blackness. At the same time, the snow makes you feel cocooned. One pushes you away, the other pulls you in. Land approaches, but as soon as the outline of the landscape appears, thick fog falls.  

    "Have you ever been on a boat out of sight of land?"

    I think of fishing with my father, killing the fish that he didn't have the stomach to kill. He doesn't like the sight of blood. I think of my mother almost drowning as a child - she never liked water after that point, but still she sat on the fishing boat with a wide sun hat. I think of falling in the water - no one would find you, you would have only four minutes to live.

    Philip walks out of the wheelhouse and kicks a lever at the ship's bow. The anchor plunges to the ocean floor. Bram sweeps snow from the deck, silhouetted against the lights of the wheel house. He is smoking a cigarette and the smoke mixes with the condensation of his breath.

    Layers keep me warm, but my fingers burn with numbness. My circulation ends here. We are floating into oblivion. Fog so thick and close we can't see more than ten metres from the boat. Victorian explorers look out into fog like this and pray to god they don't hit an iceberg. They congratulate themselves on proving a new island, they name it. It is theirs. They wish they could see a vista and admire it but the fog is too thick.

    Everything is edgeless, corners are no longer sharp. The deck is no longer as hard. The snow renders everything indeterminate. The chair on deck is from a summer patio - but the tourists are missing. They were here in the summer, but now the plastic summer tables and chairs are covered in snow. 

    Dan records a conversation with the water. I can only hear him mumbling into his microphone, an intimate dialogue.

    Position at 0800: 78°40' N 14°42' E
    Temperature: 1 °C – overcast – no wind

    Friday, 30 September 2011

    Last Night On Land

    The final modifications are made to my equipment: testing the camera, the camera rig, the film, streamlining my bag so I can move easily but have everything I need with me at all times.

    Our ship pulls into the harbour, and we can see the sails towering over the low buildings around it. We aren't allowed to visit the ship yet - she's like a bride before a wedding. But some of us climb the hill behind the harbour and look down on it.

    The clarity of distant mountains is unimaginable. They look hyperreal. You can see every rock, every crack, every piece of ice, all details in such sharpness you could close your fingers around them. But they're miles away.

    I buy last-minute supplies:
    Cling film: one roll
    Chocolate: four different formats
    Bitter strawberry gelatine sweets: quarter kilo
    Jameson Whisky: half-bottle

    Tomorrow we set sail. No telephone, no internet for two weeks.
    You will read everything I have to say on my return, please be patient.

    I pass a graveyard while on my run, a dozen uniform white crosses scattered across the rock slope:

    I believe in ice
    I believe in memories
    I believe you didn't mean it  
    I believe you wanted to explain everything, but never found the time.
    Remember, kids: running with tears in your eyes makes it hard to breathe. And zero degrees is not cold enough to freeze them.

    Thursday, 29 September 2011

    First Snowfall...

    In Svalbard Museum, a stuffed Polar Bear crouches ready to attack.

    I'm still only wearing two layers - trying to resist the third until it gets really cold. So far, Longyearbeyen has only reached zero degrees.

    A freezing fog falls over the town, and every sound is muffled. I walk with Ben and Wyn-Lyn as far as we can see, past the school, in the direction of an art gallery we've heard is perched at the edge of town. But the fog is too thick, we can't see far enough ahead to know where we're heading. The fog spills into the valley, and reminds me of Heart of Glass.

    I run 7 miles, down to the Eastern edge of town, as far as I can go before the "Polar Bear Warning" sign that marks the town limits. You should go no further without a gun. I run past a Husky kennel - all the dogs are standing on top of their dog houses, looking around to see where the sound of running is coming from. Their heads flit curiously from side to side, scanning the horizon. One dog sees me and starts barking, and all the others join in.

    At around mile three, a light snow starts falling. It sails horizontally, slowly collecting on my eyebrows, in my hair and in the folds of my shirt. It hits my eyeballs and melts instantly, blurring my eyesight for a moment.

    The rest of the team arrives on the daily flight from Oslo. We all shake hands like the first day of university. Tomorrow is our last day in town before we set sail.

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011

    It Gets Colder

    Coming in to land in Tromso, the air is so clear everything looks pin-sharp, the ridges of the mountains below so clear, even from 15,000 feet, that it looks more like a projection than the surface of the earth getting closer. We have to get off the plane at Tromso, walk through immigration, and walk back onto the same plane for the second leg of the flight to Longyearbeyen.

    There is a greyness to the town of Longyearbeyen. It has no pretense to anything other than a depot into the Arctic. Pipelines run above ground into the centre of town. When I ask the receptionist at the lodge where I can find food, she says "just follow the pipeline." The mountains around us and the fog falling calmly over the water insinuate the landscape you would expect of the Arctic, but in this town it's only 4x4s, corrugated metal hangars and heavy machinery. This is where things (and people) come in and go out, nothing more. It's a town only to serve the transportation of supplies. Look out over the water and you can see vast whiteness ahead, ice and mountains. But not here. The hills that surround the town are all cut across by a road, a pipeline, an electricity pylon. This place is about functionality.

    The sun never rises here, it only skims above the horizon, no more than 45 degrees. It doesn't rise in the East and set in the West. It doesn't go up and down, signalling morning, noon and night. It doesn't do what you expect. It hangs there, just above the mountains that peak over the town. The sky is covered in a translucent gauze through which the sun has trouble breaking.
    Few people go outside. I walk around town to explore, but I rarely see anyone else on foot. A woman is walking her dog - a husky, of course. I run a two-mile loop around town three times. Dressed in thermal underwear and running shoes, I try to get the right balance between sweating and freezing, and after around two miles I reach an equilibrium: heat in, cold out. I feel like a well-balanced, efficient machine. I think I look like a biathlete. But I probably look more like someone running outside in zero degrees in my underwear.

    More of the team arrives from Canada, Singapore, London. We walk down to the sailing centre to arrange for my dry suit, and at the edge of the water, two sounds are mixing: the waves repeatedly stroking the shore and the hum of the factory churning out electricity for the town.

     At night, I run outside in a t-shirt and trainers when Aaron says he can see the Northern Lights. Two ribbons across the sky, they elegantly loop into each other and flare around the edges. They move faster than I was expecting. Each flare falls slowly to earth; they look like curtains of powdered sugar.

    Tuesday, 27 September 2011

    Secrets Of The Museum

    The ferry to Bygdoy leaves from the quays at the south end of Oslo, just below City Hall. It's a water taxi, sailing through the gray mist of the bay. A few drops of rain fell earlier today. I'm packed for snow and freezing wind, but not for rain. (The upcoming weather doesn't look like rain...)

    I film on the ferry with the F3, and a Nikon prime 35mm lens. I am enamoured with this camera already. I want to go back in time and re-shoot all my old films with it. Return to the slow, deliberate style of fixed lenses.

    I've only met Karina once before, never met her husband Nils, but as I step off the ferry at  Bygdoy island they greet me like old friends. Nils has offered to show me around Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki Museum, because Nils was - not so long ago - a marine archaeologist. (Is there a more adventurous kind of archaeologist?)  But before the Kon-Tiki, Nils has a surprise for me.

    He walks with me through the vaults of the Maritime Museum. The shelves of material not on display, unidentified. Some pieces are of unknown origin - shards that can't be put together. Some pieces just don't have enough resources or money behind them to reconstruct. In one corner is an entire ship, laid out in indistinct strips of wood like a drying carcass. "Imagine trying to put that back together..." Karina laughs. I remember that my mother was an archaeologist, and once had the patience to sit for weeks piecing together clay jars from hundreds of tiny fragments.

    There is a pile of bones. Broken pipes. Bottles, shoes, dozens of shoes. Nils jumps excitedly from shelf to shelf, recounting fragments of history and anecdotes as they spring to mind. He opens a box with pieces that he found, cleaned and categorised in the early 1990's. They're still in good condition, "It's good to know my work has survived."

    There is a team of archaeologists here, wading in waterproof boots through a huge vat of polyethylene glycol. It smells like darkroom photo fixer. The vat held the longest canoe made from a single piece of wood ever found in Norway, and the team is soaking the wood to preserve it. It looks like an oil slick, fragments of flotsam floating on the thick surface.

    Nils and Karina drive us up to Frognerseteren, a Dragon hut at the top of Oslo's ski slopes. We peer over the edge at the city's newest ski jump, an angle so steep it scares me just standing here. I imagine the open mouth of Herzog's ecstatic woodcarver Steiner. We look out over the view of the city, now glowing gold with the sunset. Nils remembers his childhood spent up here, drinking hot chocolate after a day's skiing, dancing drunk on the tables after the school prom. Karina and I lament the exploitative, abusive and ruthless industry that television "entertainment" has become. I promise to bring them back pictures from the far north.

    On tonight's six-mile run through the city, I have to remind myself this is the warmest I'll be for the next 19 days.

    Saturday, 24 September 2011

    To Oslo...

    Idrees was my taxi driver to the airport. I tried carrying my luggage onto the train, but my gear weighed 25kg, my backpack around another 10kg. Just walking to the train station from my flat was a challenge.

    (North Face, you make a great expedition bag, but carrying it on your back is too painful to be practical...please redesign the straps. I'm happy to help...)

    Half-way to the train station, I ducked into a side street and asked Sam's Cars to take me to Terminal 5. Idrees walked me to his car. I was so tired after only 4 hours of sleep the night before, I was ready to fall asleep immediately. I always fall asleep in cars. But Idrees' conversation was too involved to fall asleep to.

    He told me about how hard he works, sometimes doing two ten-hour shifts back to back. He doesn't take any chances when he gets tired, though. He doesn't do any of the tricks some people do - opening the window to get some air or drinking a cup of coffee. He just goes straight home to sleep. "I'm not going to risk my life for ten, twenty quid," he says.

    He tells me about his boxing career. 30 wins in 40 bouts. Most of his losses were because he couldn't get his weight down enough to fall into lightweight - 60kg. He talks me through some of his losses, recounting exactly what it was that finally knocked him down. He says he likes boxing, but who wants to get beaten up all the time?

    He has a child on the way - his wife should be giving birth in about two weeks. Idrees would like a boy. He'd like to teach him boxing, but he's not sure it's the right thing to do, teaching a child to beat people up. Sport is great, but maybe not boxing. He took his nephew to a fight once, but he felt bad when he got knocked out - he kept thinking "why should my nephew have to see me like this?"

    We talked about the price of baby clothes, and all the accessories you need. He bought a pram for £400. "You could get one for less, but then it'll look cheap. You don't want to be walking around pushing a pram you're not happy with."

    "You're Palestinian? Were you at the demo on Saturday?"
    I don't really go to demos any more.
    He lifts up his sunglasses and shows me a scar.
    "That's from a riot shield. People started pushing, and the riot police just beat up anyone they could get their hands on. I had to get 12 stitches and my eye was black and swollen for two weeks. They didn't care who it was. There was a woman next to me, you could see she wouldn't hurt anyone, but they beat her up, too."

    As I pay for the taxi, Idrees gives me his card, so I can book a taxi on the way back.
    "Good luck with the baby!" I shake his hand as I heave my bags into the airport.
    My bag is 2kg over the limit, but the woman at the checkout counter lets it slide. I wouldn't know what to do if she'd stopped me. I would have had to try boarding the plane with my snow boots, weighing 2kg each.

    I call my sister to say goodbye. The call reminds me that my airport protocol has changed. I would always call my mother last thing before boarding a flight. She would say something about missing me, never quite sure where I was going or why. I would say something about seeing her soon, never entirely true.  

    I fall asleep taxing out of Heathrow. I wake up in Oslo. I was so tired I didn't even notice take-off.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    How Will I Know When It's Cold Enough?

    Day four of my cold shower routine. I'm preparing for the Arctic swim. I'm now comfortable standing under the shower for five minutes - I could do longer, but frankly it's rather boring standing under a shower once you're actually done showering, just counting every second for five minutes. After around 45 seconds I achieve a zen state where the cold no longer makes me shiver. At times it actually feels comfortable, sometimes even warm. You being to see how small changes in your position, movement and posture make big differences in your ability to retain heat.

    Once I reach a comfortable equilibrium, I move slightly, let the water run over my head and suddenly the shivers are back and I have to start again. Breathing slowly and deliberately to find a calm, relaxed state.

    On Thursday I'll be going for a cold swim in the UK's largest outdoor fresh-water pool.

    In the Arctic, I'll be diving in a dry suit. I admire Lewis in his commitment:

    Friday, 2 September 2011

    There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void

    This is my love-letter to the Arctic. From September 29 to October 16, I will sail around Norway's Arctic Svalbard Archipelago with The Arctic Circle "nomadic" residency.

    There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void is an experimental, "psycho-ecological" project:
    part expedition documentary, part exploration of mankind's relationship with nature.

    The film is being Produced by Marie-Therese Garvey. Juan Carlos Farah and Newertown Arts
    are heading an extensive programme of screenings, educational events and a travelling exhibition.

    We're extremely grateful to the supporters of this project so far, including Polar photographer (and TED Fellow) Camille Seaman, The Arctic Circle, Patrick Hazard and the London International Documentary Festival, Hull's Maritime Museum, the Norwegian Embassy (UK) and Planet Agents - experts in environmental educational.

    Please subscribe to this blog, and keep visiting regularly to read updates on the project....

    Monday, 2 May 2011

    The Air Is Too Thin Up Here

    Walking on flat ground, slowly, everything seems normal. As it should be. But start to run, or walk uphill, or exert yourself in any way (climbing the stairs, carrying heavy equipment...) and you start to feel the thinness of the air up here. Suddenly ordinary breaths are not enough. You try to breathe deeply, but the oxygen doesn't reach you. You need two breaths for every lung of oxygen. You suddenly feel incapacitated by an elevation of only 1700m, the change is instantaneous. From ordinary breathing to gasping for air in a matter of seconds. Wearing the steadicam, I can only run around 200m next to Salah and his team before I'm about to collapse, desperate for more oxygen, starting to feel ill and off balance. Even one lap of the track, jogging casually, carrying nothing, is a challenge.

    I can't conceive of how these runners can sprint uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill. And finish it all with a smile on their faces. The mountains are glorious, beautiful, but they are designed to make life difficult for you.

    Salah looks over at the view from the sixth floor of a hotel in the centre of Font Romeu.
    "God gave the French heaven on earth. But all he gave us was the desert," he chuckles to himself.
    "I think the desert is also heaven on earth," I want to say...

    These are critical days for Western Sahara. On April 27 the UN voted to extend its MINURSO mission there for another year. As it does every year. But this year, several countries petitioned for the mandate to include human rights monitoring, something particularly important following the violence in the Gdeim Izik protest camp in November 2010. But that petition came to nothing. The mandate was renewed for another year with no human rights clause...

    And so it goes...

    Salah doesn't talk much about the UN or the mandate. This isn't where his interests lie. He wakes every morning around 9am, runs to his first training session at the track, trains for about an hour, runs back home, eats lunch, rests, runs back to the track for the afternoon training session, back home for dinner. At night, he laughs with his friends over a poker game, or watches a football match on a giant television at the local bowling alley.

    We shoot two ambitious sequences. First, the team is training in the forest around 25km from Font Romeu. We rent a bicycle in town and attach a trailer to it. I'm sitting in the trailer with the camera mounted on a steadicam. Everything is set up as it should be, we only realise once we're moving that pulling the heavy trailer and steadicam is even harder than running uphill at this altitude. We manage only two long shots, switching riders in between shots. But the timing is perfect and we get what we were looking for.

    Next, a long take of Salah and Mohammad running through the streets of Font Romeu. I'm sitting in the back of the Renault Clio, the hatchback open and my legs dangling over the back, dragging close to the surface of the street. The steadicam is mounted, weighing me down. Brendan sits in the back seat gripping the steadicam vest as tightly as he can. Mar is driving extremely slowly, paced perfectly in time with the runner, as we come around bends and carve a smooth arc with the camera, floating over the road that the runner's feet are pounding. The camera's motion is light and elegant, all the movements of the car, the runners, and the steadicam are synchronised in fluid curves that belie the immense strain Brendan and I are under. At the end of the shot, I can't make a fist with my right hand anymore and my legs are numb. Brendan's arms are aching after twenty minutes of holding my life in his hands - making sure I (and the camera) don't fall out every time the car accelerates.

    I'm constantly thinking of the fiction versus the documentary film. The fiction film acts as though no one is present behind the camera. Does the documentary want the same thing? I don't think so. I want it to be known that we are there, that we are interfering and enquiring with our equipment. This is how we tell the story. The camera needs to be the witness. The documentary doesn't want aesthetic perfection, but perfection in the storytelling process. The filmmakers should be able to watch the film and sense a presence, yet not recognise that it is their presence. The film should look familiar, but they should not recognise that it was made by them. It should be reminiscent and unfamiliar at the same time. It should be intimate and dislocated at the same time. It should still have the power to entertain, surprise and enthral.