Filmmakers strive to capture spirit of Inupiat whaling culture

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2001

BARROW (AP) -- The day was warm and clear. A group of four Inupiat whalers paddled their skin boat along the remaining shore ice followed by an aluminum boat full of filmmakers with a motion picture camera grinding.

''This light is amazing,'' director Bestor Cram said. ''This is great stuff. Did you get that?''

A three-man film crew has been in Barrow for the past week or so trying to capture the spirit of the whaling culture of the Inupiat people. The group, Northern Light Productions, came to make a portion of a film sponsored by the National Park Service on the history of whaling. When finished, the film will be shown in the theater at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.

''The relationship between New Bedford and the North Slope dates back to the 1860s when whalers first came here to the Arctic Ocean,'' producer Lennie Rotman said.

Part of the filming in Barrow included re-enactment of a whaling crew chasing and harpooning an imaginary whale. The group also filmed Eskimo dancing and the blanket toss.

''We also hope we can shoot a scene of an elder talking to a child on the beach, explaining the harshness of the ocean and telling him about some of the mistakes the greedy whalers made in the past,'' Rotman said.

Many boats were lost off the Arctic Coast over the years of Yankee whaling when they were trapped by the moving ice. Barrow has a history of saving these men from starving and freezing to death.

The making of the film is part of a larger growing relationship between New Bedford and the North Slope. The two communities will also be recipients of Park Service legislative grants cosponsored by senators Kennedy of Massachusetts and Stevens of Alaska designed to document and educate people about the history of whaling.

''Some of this money is earmarked to support the Inupiat Heritage Center here in Barrow,'' Rotman said.

Whaling captain John Nusunginya and crewmembers William Long, William Ekowana and Ned Edwardsen re-enacted the whaling scenes. Nusunginya is also involved in video production, and his company Rewind Productions has been helping in the production of the video.

Rotman said the group has also been with elder Bertha Leavitt on a scene where she is teaching children about traditions of Inupiat skin sewing.

Rotman said he was assisted by Arlene Glenn of the Commission on Inupiat History Language and Culture, Jana Harcharek of the North Slope Borough School District's bilingual department and Ron Brower, director of the Inupiat Heritage Center.

''Support from the community has been great,'' Rotman said. ''When we are finished with these scenes our hope is that we can revive the spirit of a relationship between our communities that began 140 years ago.''

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