Film portraits of Falkland Islanders released on-line
A two-man American and British film-making team is releasing the first of six video portraits of Falkland Islanders on-line today, Monday June 25th.
US citizen Jamie Gallant and Briton Vern Cummins, both of whom live in Chicago, travelled to the Falklands in March and April this year on a tight budget and an even tighter timescale, intending to (as they put it in an interview with MercoPress) “show the diversity in this incredibly small space, and give an inside look into the contemporary islands; this group of people who are so remote geographically but have such presence.”
The team was not driven by commercial profit, although the 14,000-mile return expedition has almost broken even, with the help of well-known sponsors such as Land Rover, Zeiss and wilderness outfitters North Face. Neither do they take any political view on the Falklands, although they could not escape the fact that 2012 is the 30th anniversary year of the Falklands War.
According to Vern Cummins (the British element of the team), they could not ignore this milestone or the fact that for most people, the Islands are indelibly linked to the conflict and the on-going dispute.
“We have not tried to delve too much into the 1982 war,” he said. “But we could not omit it because the conflict is engrained in the Falklands patchwork. It would be like making a documentary about McDonalds and not mentioning a hamburger.”
The historical theme emerged particularly in the prologue film, which was released last week. This included archive recordings and imagery from 1982, with short excerpts from the six interviews which will follow at two-week intervals through July and August.
“We wanted to show that something bad had happened in this land,” explained Cummins. “We don’t want to get away from it but we don’t want it to polarise the series either.”
The two, who studied together at film school in Chicago, did, however, recognise that the 30th anniversary would lift the Islands into the spotlight in a way which would help their project to be seen on the web.
They said that local people had initially been a little wary of the two camera-wielding strangers, as they were assumed to be journalists, of whom a great many had visited over previous months. “But we are not journalists, we are film makers,” said Cummins, “and this was concept that was a little tricky to explain.”
“However,” Jamie Gallant added, “once word went around Port Stanley it was a lot easier. It helped that we stayed with a family, and we were able to help people out in some ways. For example, we assisted with the annual amateur dramatic show, and we helped [Cathedral Rector] Richard Hynes with a coffee morning. We wanted to show we were prepared to be involved.
“We could not explain the entire history of the Falklands through film. That’s almost impossible. The only way we felt we could do it was by using vignettes. It’s really up to people to look at them and take from that what they will.”
The team felt that Islanders warmed to them quickly, perhaps because they wanted to find new human stories to film. “Falkland Islanders don’t feel they have a voice, and if they do it is about the war and self determination,” said Gallant. Sometimes they get a little weary of this.”
The video portraits are free of commentary, and the only voices heard are those of the Islanders being filmed going about their lives in the context of the Falklands environment and their workplaces.
The short film release today is called “The Stuffer” The subject is Steve Massam, is a professional taxidermist and model maker at the museum in Port Stanley. He is shown with the sleeve-like empty skin of a penguin (which had died naturally) as he discusses how this will be filled and eventually displayed in the museum’s natural history section.
The five other films, to be released in the coming weeks will portray local pilot Troyd Bowles; the Rector of the Anglican Cathedral Richard Hines; Sam Brownlee, a young local woman who serves enthusiastically in the local defence force; former lighthouse keep Charlie McKenzie, and Nigel Haywood, the London-appointed Governor of the Islands.
McKenzie is interviewed looking out of the Atlantic from the top of the now abandoned lighthouse, the same point from which he spotted the approaching invaders in 1982. Haywood is shown fly-fishing for trout rather than in his ceremonial uniform or chairing government meetings. The Governor is, said Gallant, “a great sport”.
“We do hope people In the Falklands like our work,” said Cummins. “We would like to continue the project. We don’t want it to be a one off. We could find 100 people to work with in the Falklands, and we would love to go back.”
By Graham Bound, London