Home Ground

Shot during a nautical voyage between Iceland and Greenland, Home Ground is a short anthropological film exploring how two very different, but geographically close cultures relate to one another within a striking and vast natural landscape. We chatted to film maker James Aiken about his journeys in the far north.

I think there is so much to be said about Iceland and Greenland, and as a filmmaker there are unlimited stories and people that can make a project rich. As these are personal projects, it's important for me to have a rewarding experience outside of the film making, and being among these truly wild places is definitely food for the soul.

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I think this project was really defined as much by the things that I couldn't capture as by those moments I could. On one of our night shifts during the crossing we had a particularly moving experience. It was about four in the morning and brutally cold with dark skies overhead. A gap in the cloud developed and we could see the aurora developing behind. At this moment fellow crew member Vidar noticed phosphorescence being disturbed by the passing swell. For the next 10 minutes we were treated to an almost full Arctic light show, aurora overhead and phosphorescence below, the whole world dancing green. It was unreal, something I will never forget.

When I was in Iceland filming Almost Arctic, I met a lot of people around the town of Ísafjörður, including Siggi the captain of the Aurora. He invited us round to his house for dinner: traditional Icelandic roast puffin. He's an inspiring, well-travelled guy, and we spent the night hearing stories of his early life in the Westfjords and about his trips to Greenland. I mentioned that I grew up sailing and would love to crew if the chance arose.

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That opportunity came in September, when Siggi needed a crew to sail the boat back from the east coast of Greenland after a summer of tours. He invited Vidar and I to fly to Kulusuk, sail north to the narrowest crossing point and then for the passage across the Denmark Straits to Iceland.

If you read any book about the area, it says to leave before the end of August as the autumn storms are particularly violent. Not to mention how dangerous moving through the ice can be in anything but calm conditions. But Siggi was confident a crossing was possible if we picked our moment. There were two storms brewing as we embarked but, with Siggi's meteorological understanding and intuition, we threaded our way between them back to Iceland.

I only had a few hours with Dines, the local Greenlander, as we were due to sail north almost as soon as Vidar and I arrived. After only an hour in the country, I was whipping through the fjords in his small boat, butchering seals to feed to his sled dogs and sampling muktak (whale blubber), a local delicacy that is as rich in Vitamin C as an orange. 

I'm inspired by people who live closely with nature. If we look at these people, who live quiet, happy lives in tune with their surroundings, we can begin to understand how we must adapt our own to experience a more sustainable and rewarding lifestyle.

Look to James Aiken's tumblr for more from this talented film maker.