I just spent twenty-four hours at the foot of the Pyrenees, presenting the film yesterday afternoon at the Université de Perpignan, thanks to Yves Chevaldonné, who teaches Film Studies there, and then again last evening at the regional Institut Jean-Vigo (devoted to cinema), thanks to the Institute’s director Kees Bakker. This double event, targeting different audiences, was amazing, because I was sharing my work directly with my peers – people very knowledgeable about the craft of film-making.
At both events, Yves Chevaldonné mentioned my film is part of the New Wave of documentaries, which share the author’s point of view and subjective interpretations. We then discussed whether objectivity is possible (we are not sure it is). We also discussed the limits of inter-subjectivity – that is, of seeing other people not as objects but rather as thinking and feeling subjects with their own inner world of experience. I said inter-subjectivity is a philosophical ideal, although it can only go so far, given that I may simply have no idea about the inner world of experience bound up in that other person’s subjectivity.
The students at the university are about to embark on careers in photo-journalism and were particularly interested in the technical demands of filming in the polar regions: sharp winds; constant movement; condensation; frost on lenses and viewfinder screens; snowflakes, flecks of ice and salt drops on lenses; marauding polar bears; aggressive muskoxen; and the film-maker’s own occasional frostbite and disorientation. We discussed the ethics of documentary film-making, and how to obtain the consent of participants and then maintain that consent throughout the production.
At another point, I said Dersu Uzala, the 1975 Soviet-Japanese co-production directed by Akira Kurosawa, has had an enduring impact on me. Yves Chevaldonné immediately picked up on this, and provided context about this film, based on the 1923 book of the same name by Russian cartographer Vladimir Arsenyev, which is epic in scope and reveals the close relationship between Dersu and Arsenyev.
One gentleman at the Institut Jean-Vigo asked whether I knew of Jean Malaurie, and I said Les Derniers rois de Thulé, based on his experiences with Thule Inuit in Greenland, is one of the books that has most influenced me.
We discussed the way my film combines historical and artistic dimensions, and focuses on the psychological and physiological effects of extreme polar environments – the altered states and stress undergone by Amundsen and other explorers of his era. In fact, an old friend Clément Le Guay came to the screening on Tuesday this week at the Canadian Cultural Centre, and told me afterwards, “The Blinding Sea is a mind-blowing film.” This is one of the finest compliments I have ever received!
In Perpignan, I shared some anecdotes – some hilarious, others distressing – about my own altered states and totally unexpected experiences while shooting the film.
I was very touched by the words of Kees Bakker, “The Blinding Sea shows us the unique character of Roald Amundsen’s endeavours to discover and explore the Arctic and Antarctic regions. His reliance on Inuit knowledge and experience to live in and deal with extreme conditions is put into perspective by director George Tombs, who draws parallels with other famous explorers and also draws on his own polar journeys. A visually rich and extremely well-documented film, The Blinding Sea takes the spectator on a polar, visual, sonic, musical, human and historical expedition.”
Over supper after the two screenings, it was a pleasure to discuss the history of cinema with Yves Chevaldonné and Kees Bakker. Our conversation ranged from the Lumière brothers to Georges Méliès, and Robert Flaherty to Jacques Tati, Martin Scorsese, Denis Villeneuve and recent flops by Kenneth Branagh. I have been working alone all these years, so this must have been the first time I have discussed cinema with such knowledgeable people.
After tonight’s screening at the Université Paris Cité, it is then back to Quebec! Without France’s magnificent TGV train system, I would never have been able to crisscross the country so comfortably during this film tour. What a thrill this has been!