Equal parts travelogue, cultural history, and environmental parable, People of a Feather combines breathtaking imagery with heartwarming characters to tell the story of a people’s connection with nature, and their struggle to adapt to climate change. The West Kootenay EcoSociety will be bringing the film to the Civic Theatre this Wednesday for its Kootenay premiere.
The film was shot over seven winters in an Inuit community on the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay. What began as an academic research project for Dr. Joel Heath evolved into an evocative portrait of an Inuit community faced with an array of changes. In People of a Feather, Heath chronicles the community’s integration of traditional and modern lifestyles, and he documents how climate change undermines the community’s very survival.
On its surface, the film revolves around the relationship between the Sankiluaq community and the eider duck, on which the Inuit depend for food and warmth. But on a deeper level, the story is about a people’s deep connection with nature, and how that has evolved over time. In the second half of the film, we see how the pace of climate change in the Arctic — where the impacts are greater and are compounded by the hydroelectric industry — has outstripped this deeply adaptive community’s ability to react to change.
The story resonates today, even though filming started in 2004. Within the last year, First Nations and their supporters have resisted impacts to their land and practices in New Brunswick, along the Enbridge Pipeline, at Jumbo Valley, and at Perry’s ridge in the Slocan Valley. Without being heavy-handed, the film presents a gentle parable of what can happen when the ties between a community and its environment are severed.
Whether you interpret the film as a morality play, a work of anthropology, or as a visually-stunning chronicle of nature’s mysteries, it’s worth seeing. Dr. Heath’s personal investment comes through in his richly painted portrait of the people and place. His time-lapse monitoring technology and underwater camera system earned him a well-deserved place in the BBC’s Planet Earth series, as he recorded the world’s first images of eider ducks feeding under the Arctic ice.
People of a Feather screens at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20 at the Nelson Civic Theatre. Tickets are $10 for the general public or $8 for students, seniors, and EcoSociety members. The proceeds will be split between the West Kootenay EcoSociety and the Eider Foundation.