The Arctic Town of Tuktoyaktuk: A Profile of a Changing Community

Daniel and partner in rural Alaska

Students

2019
College

Faculty

Project Summary

A Documentary on the Arctic Town of Tuktoyaktuk

Daniel Fradin and Kyle Rosenbluth

We originally planned to make a short documentary in Greenland on how climate change impacts indigenous Inuit communities. The Inuit are in an extremely unique situation where both climate and politics are threatening their existence. The objective of the project was to portray the challenges that the Inuit face as the changing climate threatens their way of life and brings powerful nations onto their land to claim their resources. We saw this as a localized and intimate representation of a struggle that has occurred throughout history, and the Inuit represented a unique opportunity to tell this story.

After receiving generous grants from the Pincus-Magaziner Family Undergraduate Research and Travel Fund, the Penn Undergraduate Climate Action Grant, and the Seltzer Digital Media Award, we began making arrangements to travel to a small Greenlandic town called Qaanaaq. However, due to a few economical and logistical challenges, it was going to be almost impossible for us to make a documentary in Greenland, ergo, we pivoted. After much research, we found a small indigenous community in the Canadian Arctic called Tuktoyaktuk, which offered the same opportunities to tell our originally planned documentary.

After arriving in Tuktoyaktuk, we began interviewing many members of the town, asking questions on topics as varied as climate change and alcoholism. We soon realized that although Tuktoyaktuk is greatly impacted by climate change, specifically erosion and permafrost melting (losing upwards of ten-feet of shore per year), the indigenous Inuvialuit in the town didn’t have the luxury of worrying about issues that weren’t directly affecting them on a day-to-day basis, ergo, another pivot!

In the end, we came away with a feature length documentary that instead of focusing on just climate change, attempts to paint a portrait of the town, broaching such topics as political corruption, endless summer days, childhood, and redemption. The main protagonist of the film is a boy named Dallas, a teenager who has grown up in this crumbling environment in a forgotten place, and through interviews with him, the story of the town begins to emerge.

Besides examining the story of this town and the many challenges the community face, we also studied the discipline of documentary filmmaking. We explored the methods by which historical truth and memory are conveyed through documentary film, attempting to empower the Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk to shape and direct their own historical portrayal. We were first introduced to these ideas while taking a course on Historical Films with Professor Meta Mazaj. Because of that course, we both became fascinated with historiography and how the method of capture can dictate the historical memory of certain events or peoples. While making this documentary, we were able to explore ideas regarding the empowerment of underrepresented minorities to shape and direct their own history.

We are currently putting the final touches on the film, and plan to have a finished feature length documentary by the end of the year, at which point we will begin submitting to film festivals around the world. This experience wouldn’t have been possible without the generous grants from Penn, and we are honored to have been given this opportunity.