Summary

How do you organize an event in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the world’s northernmost permanent settlement? And more importantly, how do you make it serve a purpose beyond the ‘wow’ factor of its location?

When our team first decided to organize an independent film festival in Svalbard, the initial motivation was undoubtedly our collective spirit of adventure. But as we spent more time developing its identity, we realized there was no way we could put on an event in such a location without acknowledging the big, sweaty elephant in that room. Research shows that “climate change has greater effect the farther north you come”, with the month of January 2019 already 4,7°C warmer than normal.

Methodology

As the team’s informal CSR nerd, I took a fundamental part in shaping the direction of the Arctic Film Festival in partnership with the UN SDGs platform. I collaborated with UN Consultant Adriana Romero on the SDG elements of the festival’s identity.

group of people talking in cafe
Facilitating the informal roundtable for filmmakers on socially impactful storytelling

As the festival organizer, I was the main point of contact for the venue, filmmakers and other guests. I also organized the industry events—an informal filmmakers’ roundtable with a member of the Producers’ Guild of America, a cozy networking after-party on the night of the film screenings, and the guided trips around Svalbard the following day (including a visit to Pyramiden).

Project Outcome

The first edition of the Arctic Film Festival was a memorable one for everyone involved. The event served as a poignant reminder of how fragile the Arctic ecosystem really is, both through the selection of screened films (with several projects from Northern Canada about indigenous topics), as well as through the guided tour trips around Svalbard.

Exploring Pyramiden

Attending filmmakers had the following to say:

What a gem of a festival. Obviously the location is truly spectacular, but in addition the AFF was really well run – tech was great, large engaged audience and warm hospitality from the festival pros who run it. This is well worth applying to/attending.

Amy Elliott

This was an extraordinary and unusual festival experience miles inside the arctic circle in Svalbard. It was a festival wrapped up in an adventure to a place you would otherwise never visit. In its first year, screening a diverse set of films in one Saturday evening session, there were films focussed on the arctic and others from locations that chimed in more lateral ways; from Yemen, Australia and Greece. Showing a film set in the Arctic I found there was just enough interaction through the films themselves and the festival goers with the issues facing the Arctic. Svalbard has no indigenous population but I still would have welcomed more connection to the local town through the governors presence and I belief that the festival organisers will work on this next year. It would be good to have had a response from this small community to some of the issues that face the arctic.

The organisers were amazing and brilliant and set up a fascinating tour for the film makers who made it all the way to the festival. It was great fun! Thanks guys!

Max Baring

Incredible Location. Great Festival Team that tries everything to make you feel at home. High quality of films. Nice screening venue. Since the festival is still small the networking is inevitable 🙂 Hopefully the next edition will be in springtime.

Fabian Döring

Retrospective

Working on the Arctic Film Festival was, in many ways, the highlight of my work with HF Productions. Both on a personal level—because of my life-long fascination for northern desolate landscapes—and on a professional level—for being able to combine my passion for the environment with a free cultural event that served to further inspire filmmakers from around the world.

street sign in Svalbard

The financial limitations are so prevalent in any project that they shouldn’t even be mentioned anymore, but daydreaming doesn’t cost much. In an ideal world, with a slightly different allocation of funds, the event could become longer and have at least a couple of days of screenings. I was also working a lot on securing researchers and other artists for a panel debate on storytelling and climate change, but the timing of the event didn’t allow for this. Changing the date of the event would undoubtedly fix that.

An event like the Arctic Film Festival has really unlimited potential—more so than other film events—because of its privileged location and the collective sense of urgency in the face of planetary crisis. More and more people want to talk and act about climate change, whether or not there’s money in it, which makes this point in time particularly momentous. I look forward to seeing where the next team takes this project.