Sunday, April 10, 2011

Silent Snow (Rhoades)

“Silent Snow” Makes
Loud Statement

Key West’s John Padget and Jacob Gelt Dekker
Back a Film About Pollution in the Arctic Circle and Beyond

By Shirrel Rhoades

Sipping wine on a balmy spring afternoon on the porch of their Frances Street compound, John Padget and Jacob Gelt Dekker are carrying on a seemingly unlikely conversation about the temperatures in Greenland. Dekker was there for the filming of a documentary titled “Silent Snow,” playing tonight at the Tropic Cinema. These Key West residents helped fund this look at the effects of pollutants on this distant outpost near the Arctic Circle.
“I’m the guy in the big seal suit on one of the dog sleds,” Dekker points to a photo of a snowy landscape. “I nearly froze to death. It was 40 below. You don’t have any humidity. The moisture gets crystallized. The air is so dry it rips your lungs out.”
Dekker, a movie-star-handsome blond in a beige explorer’s shirt with epaulets, takes another sip of chilled wine in the warm sunlight. “We chartered an icebreaker to get us farther north,” he talks about filming the documentary. “The cameras froze up despite the heat packs wrapped around them. And how do you recharge camera batteries in the Arctic? There are no plugs in an igloo. We kept the helicopters running to recharge the batteries from them.”
A world traveler for various United Nations committees (and an adventurer at heart), the Dutch-born Dekker accompanied director Jan van den Berg to Greenland for part of the shoot.
“The idea was hatched while sitting in the backyard here in Key West with Anne McKee,” he shrugs. Padget and Dekker are very much involved in child rights around the world and have a foundation that funds orphanages. “The idea of having an orphanage in Greenland came up.”
“Things evolve,” smiles John Padget, a serious-faced educator who likes to remind you that he was originally a farmer from New England, knowledgeable about the dangers of pesticides and fertilizers and the encroachment of pollution from the outside world. “The subject of global pollutants is an important one,” he adds.
As Jan van den Berg tells it, “Some years ago Jacob saw one of my documentaries: ‘Deacon of Death,’ looking for justice in today’s Cambodia. He loved that film and wanted to meet me and do something together. We made plans to go to Africa and travel up the Congo River, an old dream of both of us. But I’d just made up my mind to go to Uummannaq, Greenland, for the research of ‘Silent Snow.’ After I heard that this chemical pollution starts to effect people in the Arctic. It shows so well how small the world is and that we have a responsibility for it.”
Jacob Dekker rubs his hands, as if remembering the cold of Greenland, where he wore oversized boots crammed with heat packs. “There was something going on up there,” he continues the story. “Jan said come on up and we’ll make a short film for the festivals.” But it turned into a full-length documentary that covered several distant points on the globe while tracing pesticides and other pollutants that ocean currents carry from Uganda and Costa Rica and India to the Arctic Circle.
“I tried to fly to Greenland by way of Nova Scotia,” says Dekker, “but it’s impossible to get to Greenland from there. I had to fly back here, then to Copenhagen to get to Greenland, a 20 hour trip.”
The result was worth the trip.
“Silent Snow” borrows its name from a book of that title, as well as offers a nod to Rachel Carson’s seminal treatise on pesticides, “Silent Spring.”
This film is narrated by Pipaluk Knudsen-Ostermann, a lovely, dark-eyed woman, an Inuit who grew up within the chilly confines of the Arctic. “Our cold heaven,” she calls it.
She, like many others, is concerned for her country’s future. “An invisible enemy is threatening our homeland. It silently comes down with the snow,” she tells us in the beginning of the film. She’s talking about the pollutants that are affecting the Inuit people.
Here in this cold climate, you need to eat oily foods from seals and whales. In this food chain the pollution is ending up in the fat. Dangerous pesticides are causing cancer and fertility problems.
“Persistent organic pollutants are forbidden since the Stockholm Convention but are still being used in many countries, poisoning our land and our seas,” she says.
Jan van den Berg’s cameras follow Pipaluk as she travels to a northern village to assess the problem. “Because of global warming, there’s not enough ice to go hunting, but too much ice to go fishing.”
The melting ice lowers the mountaintops, causing the sun to appear two days earlier this year. “In old days it was completely frozen, we could travel by dog sled all way to the North Pole,” she recalls. Now it requires a combination of motored boat, icebreaker, and dog sled.
As Pipaluk makes this journey, we share her flashbacks about other trips she’s made in her quest for knowledge. “I decided to travel abroad to find out how and why these pesticides are still used,” she says. “First I went to Africa. DDT is illegal but you can still buy it.”
“We know it’s illegal,” she’s told by Masai tribesmen. “We need it against fleas and mosquitoes. It’s very expensive. What can we do?”
She watches a 7-man team spraying DDT against malaria in Uganda. The next morning the chickens are dead.
In India, Pipaluk finds DDT factories polluting the waters of the Periyar River. The people need the work so the towns compete for these chemical factories. You can no longer eat the fish from the river. More than 62 illegal drainage pipes were found under the water.
And in Costa Rica, she learns of another pesticide called Nemagon, prohibited in the United States, but having left its traces in this banana-growing economy. And how mercury from gold mines is contaminating the rivers.
Then Pipaluk dives into the blue ocean waters to see the last coral reef along the coast. Only 30 per cent is left.
“It was so beautiful, all the fish and the reefs,” she says. “But I knew these little fish already gathered the poison in their bodies to wind up in the meat of our seals and whales.”
In between the flashbacks of her visits to these countries, the film continues to follow Pipaluk’s northern journey. The snowy vistas. The ice floes. The eerie beauty of the frozen landscape. We can see why she loves her homeland, cold though it may be.
We’re reminded of the quote from Lao Tsu that opens the film: “From caring comes courage”
After two days Pipaluk arrives in the village where she receives a traditional welcome party. Blubber of the narwhale is the national dish. But don’t expect any polar bear meat. Because polar bears are top of the food chain, they suffer from pollutants. Many of their cubs die. “We don’t see many anymore,” she’s told.
Bundle up for this trip to colder climes!
However, “Silent Snow” is more than a beautifully photographed travelogue. It’s a call to arms in the battle to save our planet. John Padget and Jacob Gelt Dekker may seem unlikely warriors, but they are bringing “Silent Snow” to the Tropic Cinema to help spread the alert about the global affect of deadly pollutants.
Director Jan van den Berg and John Padget will be on hand to answer questions. Jacob Gelt Dekker is off on another globetrotting adventure.

[From Solares Hill]


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