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VIFF 2011 Interview – “People Of A Feather” director Joel Heath

People Of A Feather - At VIFF 11
by Jason Whyte

“This is my first film and first time at VIFF. I will be attending all 3 screenings and Johnny Kudluarok who was the primary production assistant up north is also coming from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut an will attend the first two screenings and Q&A.” Director Joel Heath on the movie “People of a Feather” which is screening at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

My background was actually in arctic sea ice ecology, using underwater video and time lapse to study ecology and sea ice dynamics. The footage we were getting, and then the story of the community was just so compelling, we realized we needed to make this film.

How did this project come together?

Through a lot of hard work and commitment from many, many people in the community. Almost every family in town was involved in some capacity, be it helping to make the traditional eider skin clothing for the recreations, recording traditional music or helping us navigate on the winter sea ice in dangerous conditions. Financially, we were initially supported by the Mountain Equipment Co-op Environment Fund, and later by International Polar Year Canada, plus a lot of in kind support from collaborators and sponsors.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

The biggest challenges probably involved working in the arctic in the middle of the winter out on the sea ice far away from the community. Cold winter conditions are challenging for operating electronic and camera equipment, as well as dealing with polar bears and the like. But we always had the eider down parkas to keep us warm. And it the end, these challenges were the most rewarding, particularly when we were able to capture incredible images we could never have imagined, both above and below the sea ice.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I did the cinematography, which is something I really enjoy. The majority of the film was shot with the Canon 7D, which was really amazing and opened up the whole artistic side of filmmaking to me again, with prime lenses and nice depth of field. We also designed a bunch of custom equipment for filming eiders diving under the sea ice and designed aerial time lapse towers to capture the dynamics of moving icescapes. This not only led to beautiful images, but also led to a new understanding of how these sea ice ecosystems worked.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I’ve been inspired by a lot of films, but I think Anatarjuat: The Fast Runner was definitely a major film that inspired a lot of us in the arctic and was without a doubt a key inspiration for us all in making this film. Particularly as the community of Sanikiluaq is named after a real life legendary fast runner! Our recreation sequence features three generations of Inuit descended from this fast runner and mighty hunter. And of course, I have to mention Nanook of the North, because Robert Flaherty, the grandfather of documentary, actually began his career on these same islands with these people. Unfortunately he lost all his footage from the islands so we had to recreate what it was like 100 years ago.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

I’ve always been interdisciplinary, and actually have another career in ecology! But my strength is in integrating these areas, so I can imagine making more films down the road that combine filmmaking, science, culture and the environment.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think the press will play a really important role in letting people know about both this film and the major environmental issues facing sea ice ecosystems, particularly hydroelectric developments which most people in the general public are not aware of.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start, and especially for those with films in the festival circuit?

It’s a lot of hard work, but it will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do! It isn’t always easy, so make sure you are really passionate about what you are working on. When things get tough, be tough and keep on keeping on – when you do it will be even more satisfying.

How can people keep in touch with the film at this point in the festival circuit?

Our official site is which includes a trailer. Our facebook page can be clicked HERE. And after you’ve seen the film, check out which is the page for the Arctic Eider Society which we’ve created to continue education, outreach and community based environmental monitoring programs to address these issues. The film has been produced on a not-for-profit basis and proceeds and donations will go to support these much needed programs in the eastern Arctic.

This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’11 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff11 is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte,

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 10/04/11 02:57:54
last updated: 10/04/11 02:58:40
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