People of a Feather
Directed by Joel Heath
We’ve all seen the iconic image of the sad little polar bear floating away on the lone ice cap, but this documentary puts a new and very real face on climate change. It takes a journey to the bleak, remote Belcher Islands in Canada’s Hudson Bay, where Inuit communities have lived for centuries, relying on the region’s native eider birds for their fluffy down feathers, which are the warmest in the world. The feathers provide a source of economic sustainability and make it possible for the Inuits to survive the winter weather.
Director Heath follows the day-to-day lives of families who make a home on tundra that looks anything but hospitable. Between lengthy National Geographic-style nature scenes of Arctic wildlife, we see the locals hunt seals, collect eider down, and unwind like the rest of us. (Just because they’re in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean the town’s teenage boys aren’t into blasting rap music and hanging out with their friends.) Heath explains that hydroelectric-power dams are changing the sea ice and the currents the Inuits depend on to hunt; their lifestyle, and that of the eiders, is in jeopardy. (The dams power New York and other parts of eastern North America, which makes it impossible not to feel complicit.)
The film moves slowly as Heath lets images of nature and the rugged chores performed by the community take their sweet time; he lets the facts speak for themselves without shoving “save the planet” rhetoric in our faces. The slow pace leaves plenty of time to absorb that such a different way of life exists, far away from our world of MacBooks and premade food; it’s so easy to forget that we’re all reliant on the Earth. The stark reality of their deteriorating ecosystem becomes harder to ignore as we see the eider birds overcrowding small puddles because they’re running out of places to go. By the time Heath shows us an eider bird surrounded by a few dead peers covered in ice, struggling to stay alive before slumping his head down in defeat, we’re pretty damn bummed out. Heath’s point? We need to find energy solutions that work with wildlife, not against. The water temperature change in the Hudson Bay is circulating to the Atlantic, which is a problem for the whole planet. We can talk about global warming all we want, but the Belcher Island residents are actually living it—and soon, so will everyone else.
Opens November 8