Newtok, Alaska

Newtok boat 7H2A8116sm
Photo I took in Newtok. I shot video of the same thing that will likely be in the film

This morning, Tony and I leave for the small coastal village of Newtok on the edge of the Bering Sea in order to film important footage we aren’t able to capture here in Bethel. Our flight leaves in the morning and returns around dinner time. We can’t take all the students because it isn’t in our budget, which is unfortunate.

The village is said to be one of the most depressed villages in the region, and is fractured and struggling to survive. John’s daughter, Erin, reminded us that these little planes crash all the time (we’ll be fine, of course). I’ve been to many communities on the margins, so I’m hardly concerned, but it does remind me that I should spend more time sharing. So, I decided to finally write a post.

There are lots of different types of footage we desperately need. We need some shots we likely won’t get (moose, caribou, or other wildlife) and some we should be able to get even in our limited time on the coast (erosion, buildings collapsing into the sea). Hopefully we can get some aerial footage that is useable, as well.

I’m a bit sad to leave our group. They are such an amazing team. I don’t think I’ve properly expressed how proud I am of each of them and how much they’ve learned in order to make this film good and worthwhile. We have some massively talented students on the trip, and I love them all. However, we desperately need a greater variety of b-roll, so this trip should be very valuable.

A side note for those not familiar with these backpack journalism projects: These are really John’s babies, and I do my best not to impose myself too strongly on each trip. Both John and Carol are technically the teachers for the classes for which the students get credit — a theology class and a writing class. They are not enrolled in a video class. I’m only here to make sure the film happens and is done well. That’s my role. The director and editor, and maybe cinematographer.

Still, it doesn’t seem right that I am going to Newtok and not John. Carol and I both feel blessed he includes us on these projects. But, that’s just one of the amazing examples that make him a great Executive Producer, etc. He does and understands all the important things necessary to coordinate the trip, research the story, line up the interviews, work out our outline and so many other things. He wears a lot of hats. It really is impressive. Plus, this story might be closer to his heart than any of the previous films. It is certainly closer to mine. I’ve been wanting to address climate change in a mini-doc for a long time.

Carol is unquestionably the best at staying focused on the main thread in the story and finding the best ways to ask the questions in order to get the quotes we need. And, she understands how to assemble an engaging story. We all agree we are on track to deliver a film as good as Mato Oput, but we have to wait and see if it happens once we start slicing up the footage. All I know is we are lacking in the types of visuals we need in order to compliment the stories we are collecting. Sitting down with Carol (and John until he fell asleep in his chair – he’s running himself ragged) to start reviewing interviews simply reminds me how much more we need in order to cover everything. Carol is great at editing things down to only what is necessary to the story, but right now, we are in the collection phase and need as much as we can get so we can make the choices in the editing room.

And so, we leave for Newtok. We leave the group with a heavy responsibility to gather the kinds of footage we need to help tell the story the Yup’ik people deserve. We leave to gather imagery that John and Carol, and our amazing team of budding filmmakers deserve.

They’ve worked so hard. Tony and I can’t let them down.

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