Berlinale 2016: The Disappearing Island Of Kivalina

38 minutes ago

"I am Gina Abatemarco, and I am the director and producer of 'Kivalina.' It's a film about a culture that is going through extraordinary change."

"It gets really eerie at night. All you can hear is the angry wind and the angry waves. They are really angry with us," utters one of Abatemarco's protagonists, an elderly woman from the small Alaskan island, Kivalina, located 80 miles from the Arctic Circle. She belongs to the Inupiaq Eskimo tribe that settled there. 

An elderly local from the island, Kivalina.
Credit © Kivalina Project LLC

"They are really connected to their landscape," comments Abatemarco. "Food is identity, and this is how people survived in the arctic for generations and generations."

400 people live on Kivalina. They are challenged by rising sea levels, and thinner ice makes it harder to hunt for whales and seals. The island is being swallowed up by the Alaskan Arctic Ocean. Originally, Abatemarco intended to narrate the climate change and to film the relocation of this small community, but relocation plans have stalled. Instead, she captures teenagers in a makeshift nightclub, the occasional visit by an optometrist, and the many activities in Kivalina that revolve around food.

"Cutting a caribou on the floor with your grandmother, your aunt, and your uncle on a beautiful cold evening in Kivalina - there is no ceremony around it. This is how they survive: The animal comes in, the animal needs to be cut, the meat needs to be stored - they get so much pleasure from this," the director observes.

"Kivalina" had its world premiere in the Culinary Cinema at the Berlinale. Film director Abatemarco and cinematographer Zoe White, both former Berlinale Talents, spent seven years making this beautiful, intimate portrait of a struggling community. 

"If you look closely, you can see some of the dysfunction of that lifestyle in terms of remaining on that piece of land," Abatemarco points out. "Houses are overcrowded. There is no room to expand. They don't have running water. People are not well as a result." 

Gina Abatemarco, the director and producer of the film, "Kivalina." She worked on this project for seven years.
Credit © Kivalina Project LLC

Getting close to the people of Kivalina has changed her life, says Abatemarco. She became an active member of the sustainable food movement in New York.

Abatemarco claims, "It will be a great loss for all of us to destroy the arctic landscape and not support the cultures that have so much to teach us about being sustainable and living a balanced life - connected to each other and connected to nature."

Later this year, Abatemarco will bring her film to Kivalina, and she hopes to show it on Capitol Hill.

"They have been removed from their original land. The people that live on the island of Kivalina now were settled there. It wasn't exactly a choice. The United States Government settled them there, so you could argue it's partly their responsibility to get them out of harm's way."