Arctic Son

PBS Premiere: Aug. 21, 2007Check the broadcast schedule »

Production Journal

POV: What were some of the aesthetic choices you made in filming Arctic Son?

Arctic Son - Arctic cabin.
Arctic cabin.

Andrew Walton: While you could say that that village, in that part of the Arctic, is an unremarkable place, I wouldn't say that because of my attachment to it. Old Crow is a simple rural Arctic village, but there was a ton of beauty there. When you get off a plane in Old Crow, you think there's not much there -- just a lot of one-story, low-rise homes and a dirt road. Then when you start to look at the village itself, it's got a lot of texture and a lot of different colors. The houses are made of wood, there's rusted machinery, and at the right time of year, beautiful flowers growing. As a filmmaker, I like making graphically beautiful, interesting frames from seemingly mundane or ordinary situations or locations. We spent a lot of time shooting icicles dripping, dogs sitting outside their houses, framed in the right way, with this great nobility about them. Any structure, any person, any creature in that village became a character as soon as you pointed a camera at them. Anywhere you looked there was a shot, but you have to be open to seeing things that way in order to appreciate it. In terms of the natural landscape in the Arctic, the growth season is very short, there's a really wide horizon and you can see mountains and valleys really easily. Rivers stretch out everywhere. From a filmmaker's standpoint, we're so programmed to be "on," we've got to get the shot, the sun's going down, the birds are flying in the right direction. When you're flying, and you cross north of the equivalent of Anchorage, Alaska, the landscape changes dramatically. The mountains are really jagged, and there's snow everywhere. If there's a field, it's vast and long. I was really drawn to the natural environment because it was of a scale that I'd never experienced before as a filmmaker. From a photography standpoint, it was graphic. If the Stans were out in the middle of a lake, chopping ice to put in a fish net, the shot was of vast whiteness with these two little figures out in the middle of it. It really gives you a sense that there aren't a lot of people there, and the people that are living there have skills to be able to live in that harsh environment. We took some trips where if something had happened to the Stans, if they'd gone through the ice, I'm not sure what would have happened -- there are bears and it helps to carry a gun.

POV: Can you tell us a little about the technical challenges of shooting in that harsh environment?

Walton: We couldn't have a schedule. If we'd had a trip planned to go somewhere downriver and it was raining, we'd put it off because people don't like to travel in the rain up there. Then we would spend that day shooting raindrops falling in puddles. We adapted to the situation. We had a fair amount of gear with us, like a small generator that we used to recharge batteries. We discovered Expedition Batteries used by expedition and IMAX filmmakers -- very small batteries that last a long time. There was some trial and error in the equipment that we took, and we didn't have a lot of money, so we only had one camera. If that camera broke, the trip would have been over. The equipment held up really well, despite being drenched in water and being slammed against trees and falling in the snow. It was challenging from a technical standpoint, and very cold.