RIDM 2015 Review: Polar Sea 360° is a virtual-reality voyage to the Arctic with a rich, detailed, online component, too

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won't do anything!
Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won’t do anything!

Go to RIDM’s UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, put on the virtual reality headset, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the Arctic – except you won’t need big mitts and an extra warm coat.

You can look right, left, up, down or behind you; there’s always something to see. You might be in a helicopter, on a blue-sky, sunny day, hovering above ice, snow, glaciers and icebergs or somehow outside the ‘copter, looking into it at the pilots. You might be on the deck of a small boat, in the dining room of cruise ship, or riding through a small village on an all-terrain vehicle. On top of all that, you can see the aurora borealis shimmering in the night sky in its mysterious way.

For me, it was a fascinating experience and well worth the trip to the Cinémathèque, which is conveniently located mere steps from the Berri-UQAM metro. But that’s not all, there so much more!

Before and/or after experiencing the Arctic in this way, you can find a wealth of information, from many points of view, at the web site polarsea360.arte.tv  There is a video with several chapters, and a “magazine” with 10 episodes; some of these episodes also have short videos embedded in them, as well. During the main video, and many of the video segments, viewers can use the arrow keys on their computer to get a 360-degree view. (The project can be enjoyed on smartphones and tablets, too, but I used a desktop computer. If you have a virtual reality headset at home, you cam use that. too. The web site has links to three companies that sell them.)

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360¡ web site shows Arctic ice bergs.
Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360 web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Polar Sea 360° is an international project with participants from Canada, Argentina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greenland, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. They include Arctic residents, authors, amateur explorers, biologists, a Canadian Coast Guard officer, filmmakers, geographers, geologists, historians, photographers, a prof in international politics, sailors, sea captains, scientists, singers, and veterinarians.

Climate change, and the way it affects people, wildlife and the landscape, is a major topic of the videos and the texts. The trip offered by the French cruise ship Boréal would not have been possible in past decades, because the ice was thicker then. Increased access to the Arctic means more shipping, exploration for oil and minerals and the habitat destruction and pollution that can come with that.

We also learn about the DEW Line, the Franklin expedition, explorer Roald Amundsen, and Inuit history and culture, including the forced relocation of some Inuit to Resolute Bay to shore up Canada’s arctic sovereignty claims, the abuse at residential schools, the importance of narwhal and seal in the traditional Inuit diet, their hospitality customs, hunting methods, throat singing, traditional place names, historical routes, and the problems of the present day; Nunavut has highest suicide rate in Canada.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.
A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

The waters being navigated in Polar Sea 360° are part of the famous, near mythical, Northwest Passage. Mention of it takes me back to Grade 6 history class. (You, too?) In those days, we didn’t learn much about the negative aspects of exploration and the imperialism that came with it. But we did learn about the Northwest Passage – for centuries, explorers dreamed of it and searched for it – a quicker way from Europe to the riches of Asia. The man (of course, it would be a man!) who found it would be rich, famous, admired, bring glory to his country, etc. It was a big deal then and it has become a big deal once again. Read more about the RIDM presentation of Polar Sea 360° here.


Polar Sea 360°

Country : Canada, Germany
Year : 2014
Language : English, French, German
Runtime : (up to you!)
Platform : Réalité Virtuelle / Virtual Reality (Samsung Gear Vr)
Website : http://polarsea360.arte.tv
Production : Irene Vandertop, Thomas Wallner, Stephanie Weimar
Artistic Direction : Thomas Wallner
Technical Direction : Scott Herman
Sound : Janine White
Thomas Wallner, Deep Inc., thomas@deep-inc.com

Visit the UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., from Nov. 12-22, 2015, from 11a.m. to 8p.m., to see Polar Sea 360° and other interactive presentations.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

Cinema Politica presents This Changes Everything on Monday, Oct. 5, and Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis will be there


Montrealers can see the important documentary film about climate change, This Changes Everything, at 7 p.m., on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at Concordia University (1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Room H-110) thanks to the organization Cinema Politica. Writer Naomi Klein and director Avi Lewis will be there. Suggested donation is $10 – $20. That’s probably all the information many of you will need. For others, I hope the review below will make you want to see it.

It’s all about the story – the story that we’ve been told, the story that we tell ourselves, the story that we believe. That story might be so firmly engrained in us that we never even think about it, or question it.

And that story is, that the Earth is a machine, and that mankind can and should manipulate its levers. The unfortunate results of that thinking can be seen all around us.

Changing the story is the first step toward changing our lives, our future and the life of this planet that we all depend upon.

After some opening shots of hurricanes, parched earth, polar bears and crumbling, tumbling ice bergs, This Changes Everything takes us to the ugly and monstrous tars sands of Fort McMurray, “the largest industrial project on Earth.” Would the citizens of any large city like Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal accept such a huge and destructive project if it were in their own backyard? Somehow I doubt it. But the tar sands are far away and the local population is small. Later in the film, such a place is called a “sacrifice zone.”

One worker claims: “If not for the oil sands, there’d be nothing to come here for.” Then the camera shows us some stunning scenery – a majestic river flowing through a pine forest.It might be difficult for the average person to get up there, but many people would enjoy seeing it, or just knowing that such a place exists.

When we’re told that $150 to $200 billion would be invested there over the next decade, I couldn’t help but wonder what could be accomplished if that kind of money was spent on sustainable development instead.

The abuse of the English language and the twisted metaphors used by some of the people in this film – you have to hear them to believe them. I predict gasps, laughter, boos and hisses at various points during the screening of This Changes Everything.

One guy has the nerve to frame the tar sands project this way: “We’re cleaning up one of the largest oil spills on earth.” There are claims that the area will be brought back to its original state 20 years from now. Tailing ponds will be cleaned and, “you’ll be able to drink the water.” I’d really like to believe that, but I just can’t.

Meanwhile, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation has filed a court case to stop any further exploration, since the oil sands are under their traditional land and the present project has already done so much damage to their lives.

I won’t describe the whole film in detail, but I will say that it visits activists in Montana, New York state, India, Greece, China and Germany. People are standing up, complaining, saying “No!” to rampant development, demanding their rights and a new way of doing things.

While Klein does not present Germany as a perfect place, she produces some impressive statistics (30 per cent of Germany’s electricity comes from renewables, emissions are down, employment is up, etc.) Could Canada do the same? Especially if we can elect a new government in a few weeks?

Speaking of our country, as a Canadian, I’m embarrassed and distressed to see a Canadian mining company throwing its weight around in Greece, eager to get its corporate mitts on the gold there. My apologies to you, people of Halkidiki. And shame on you, mayor of Halkidiki, who dismissed the intimidation and arrests of protestors when he said: “the police don’t knock on doors without a reason; they don’t knock on yours or mine.”

This woman in Halkidiki, Greece, opposes a Canadian gold mine in her area.
This woman in Halkidiki, Greece, opposes a Canadian gold mine in her area.

This Changes Everything, the film, is a companion piece to Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. They were created at the same time, the film is not based on the book.

I think it’s quite wise that the subhead, “Capitalism vs. the Climate” is not attached to the film – why alienate some of your potential audience right off the bat? As far as I can recall, the word “market,” as a synonym for capitalism, is not heard until 27 minutes into the film, and capitalism itself is not mentioned until 45 minutes in, when Greek activist Mary Christianou identifies it as the core problem. She’s initially reluctant to even say so on camera, because: “I don’t know if it helps the struggle.”

In reviewing the book, some writers suggest that “neo-liberalism” is more to blame for many of our present ills than capitalism alone. Abandoning the belief that all the resources of the Earth, the metals, the coal, the gas and the oil must be extracted, and that the Earth itself is just a machine that we can be trusted to run, seem like easier first steps on the path to change.

This screen grab from the documentary film This Changes Everything shows India buried under "Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants."
This screen grab from the documentary film This Changes Everything shows India buried under “Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants.”

This Changes Everything will be shown on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, 7 p.m., at
1455 de Maisonneuve West, Room H110, Concordia University, Montreal, QC.
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis will be there for a Q&A session after the film.

There’s a Facebook page for the screening of This Changes Everything.

Visit thischangeseverything.org to learn more about the book, the film, and what you can do.