The genesis of the Northwest Passage Project began a few years ago when I realized that a warming climate was dramatically reducing Arctic sea ice in summer, which in turn was enabling ships to travel across the top of the world through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago for the first time. As a filmmaker I wanted to document how this loss of sea ice and warmer temperatures were affecting the Arctic environment, wildlife, and indigenous people who lived there. If commercial ship traffic was to begin moving through the Arctic, I also wanted to understand the environmental and geopolitical impacts of such activity in one of the most remote and pristine parts of the world.
As a key component of the Northwest Passage Project, which includes marine science, a seabird census, student participation, and live videos broadcast from the Arctic via satellite, I will be producing and directing a two-hour documentary titled Frozen Obsession. I chose this title because for more than 400 years explorers and navies in sailing ships had sought a path through the Northwest Passage that would connect the Atlantic with Asia. Often their ships became locked in the sea ice, and crews would endure several years in the Arctic before they could return home. Many ships were crushed by the ice and crews were lost. For centuries this never-ending quest of sailors was what I came to think of as a Frozen Obsession.
Taking a traditional sailing ship like the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry into the Arctic will be symbolic of the multi-century efforts to find and navigate the Northwest Passage during the age of sailing ships. It will also be a way to pay homage to mariners of the past, and the ship will be a unique platform from which to observe, research, and document a dramatically changing Arctic. In addition, the Oliver Hazard Perry will be the first full-rigged ship (three masts, square sails) to sail the passage in over a century, creating its own place in history.
Sailing through this isolated, yet stunningly beautiful, part of the world will be the experience of a lifetime. That we’ll be observing and filming wildlife, meeting indigenous Inuit people, and visiting maritime heritage sites in a place few people ever get to see will be very special; and having marine scientists, students, a maritime historian, journalist, and Arctic scholar aboard will present many opportunities and perspectives from which to better understand this polar region.
Our film crew of six includes two cameramen. Many of us have worked together for decades in such places as Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, Mongolia, and Vietnam. We’ll be filming aboard the ship, from a small launch, and with drones. Shot in ultra-high definition 4K, we plan to create a two-hour program for television and a shorter version to screen at schools and film festivals. We expect the film to be completed by the first quarter of 2018. Dates, times, venues, and locations of where the film can be seen will be posted on the NPP and OHP websites: northwestpassageproject.org and ohpri.org.
David Clark has been a filmmaker for over forty years. He has produced programs for venues like National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and PBS, and have produced/directed five IMAX films.