Artist Mel Chin’s plan was to film an Inuit hunter racing through the streets of Paris on a sled pulled by seven fluffy white poodles, timing this vision of the Arctic in the French capital with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in December of last year. However, the evening of November 13, before major production was to begin, the city was struck with a series of terrorist attacks.
“A State of Emergency shut down production and we had lost a majority of our budget by morning,” Chin told Hyperallergic. “More than time and money, being empathetic to the shock and grief that the city had to bear was a weight all of us carried.”
Rather than stop filming, Chin rescripted the film, and with a reduced crew worked guerilla style for their footage, adding a response to the violence to their message. “It was quite a stressful situation,” Chin explained. “We all lose when terror and horror descend, but I look at the creative act as an act of resistance to despair and destruction. It was the only response I considered.”
Now a Kickstarter campaign is underway to complete the post-production of the short film, called “The Arctic Is Paris (L’Arctique est Paris).” The poodle team still appears, albeit in scenes shot outside of Paris, with quiet appearances of the Inuit sled, outfitted with discreet wheels for the Parisian streets, pulled by Jens Danielsen. An Inuit hunter from Qaanaaq, Greenland, Danielsen lives in one of the northernmost settlements in the world, and sees climate change firsthand. “I am a witness to this sickness,” Danielsen says in the Kickstarter film. “I see our way of life, thousands of years old, facing storms we can no longer read.”
Chin met Danielsen through writer Gretel Ehrlich, and “The Arctic Is Paris” follows Chin’s long work with activist art focused on the environment and climate. His “The Potential Project,” exhibited last year at Albuquerque’s 516 Arts, considered a “bank of the sun” with a Western Sahara currency backed by solar energy, while his ongoing “Revival Fields” started in the 1990s are planted on toxic land to remediate the soil. Each project, whether film, conceptual, or environmental, takes a global perspective on the environment, and Danielsen in Paris, wearing his furs and seal skins, is a representative of that connection.
“The world was gathering in Paris and having a Greenlandic voice there was important,” Chin stated. “I also wanted to do something that would last beyond the conference. After all, what happens in the Arctic has always affected the entire world; so it is true, the Arctic is Paris.”
Rather than derail “The Arctic Is Paris,” the ISIS attacks reinforced this need for expressing unity. Chin plans to eventually have a web platform linked to the film that can be a hub for resources on climate change.
“When the degeneration of civil society and culture occurs, as we have witnessed as part of the Syrian climate change and terrorism refugee crisis, we have created an atmosphere of emergency,” Chin said. “Art and film can be complicit in promoting the survival of ideas, in fact it might be absolutely necessary.”
The Arctic is Paris — Climate Change Message is fundraising on Kickstarter through May 21.