Arthur Smith III | Thursday, 14 April 2011 - Sunday, 17 April 2011
A lifelong photographer and resident arctic filmmaker since 2004, Arthur Smith lives on Alaska's Barter Island, in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik. He specializes in the genre of documentary and natural history filmmaking for theatrical, broadcast, and interpretive applications. Mr. Smith traveled to Ithaca, New York to participate in the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF). FLEFF is an international film festival focused on the initiative of sustainable development. It was launched in 1997 as an outreach project from the Center for the Environment at Cornell University. In 2004 Ithaca College was the major sponsor and host of the festival. In 2005 the festival moved permanently to Ithaca College, where it is housed in the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies as a program to link intellectual inquiry and debate to larger global issues.
On Thursday 14 April Mr. Smith visited the 9-12 graders at the New Roots School. This was an open interactive dialogue with students and teachers in this new alternative high school dedicated to exploring and immersing in sustainability. The session explored the complex environmental issues between the Arctic as a landscape challenged by development and the viability of polar bears as the Arctic inhabitants. Mr. Smith also illustrated his discussion with photographs of polar bears and selected clips from his award-winning nature films, Ice Bears of Beaufort and What Do Polar Bears Dream When They're Dying.
On Friday morning 15 April Mr. Smith visited the 7-12 graders at Lehman Alternative Community School. The class that Mr. Smith visited was called "Animals." The class prepared for Mr. Smith's visit by looking at his trailers for his two films online, familiarized themselves with his company, Polar Arts Productions, and interacted with Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival profiles of Mr. Smith. Students and teachers prepared questions about the relationships between animals and climate change in the Arctic. The class also explored the narrative of Mr. Smith's life, and what lead him to live in the Arctic above the Arctic Circle to work with photographing polar bears. Mr. Smith also showed excerpts from his award-winning nature films, as examples of the environmental challenges of photographing animals. Friday afternoon was spent at South Hill Elementary School with the 1-4 graders. Along with viewing appropriate clips from his films, this was also an open interactive dialogue with students and teachers asking questions about Mr. Smith's career as a wildlife photographer, cinematographer and filmmaker, with a focus on an exploration of a life choice of commitment to exploring nature and immersing in a challenging environment. Students and teachers are interested in learning about Mr. Smith's experiences and observations of polar bears, and how his experiences might differ from popular culture images/clichés of polar bears.
On Sunday 17 April there was a free screening of What Do Polar Bears Dream When They're Dying, at 2:00 pm at Cinemapolis Movie Theater at The Commons in Ithaca. This screening was the ONLY screening of FLEFF films downtown that was FREE, the public and families were encouraged to attend. 'Checkpoints' is the theme of the 2011 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival: the idea of a border, an event, a situation that causes us to cross over to someplace new. This film exemplifies the theme of Checkpoints, with its exploration of polar bears as a checkpoint in the Arctic region. Local teachers and PTA groups used social media to advertise the screening as a family event. In addition, FLEFF interns marketed this screening as the only opportunity for university students to interact and meet with Mr. Smith in a more formal situation. The local art cinema has a goal to increase attendance in the K-12 and college student sectors, so this screening helped to meet many goals in the Ithaca community. There was a post screening discussion that was moderated by Patricia Zimmermann, a documentary film scholar and FLEFF co-director, focused on the aesthetic and epistemological challenges of representing polar bears within their natural habitat. The post screening discussion was also opened up to the audience.
An independent filmmaker, Mr. Smith uses cutting-edge tools to bring the Arctic to audiences worldwide. Digital cinema—a rapidly growing technology-- is revolutionizing, and democratizing, the way in which images meet the screen. Using Hollywood-grade cinema technology, Mr. Smith's capacity to translate the Arctic is on par with the epic scale of the place itself. Mr. Smith has received many awards for his work, especially his 2008 natural history documentary about Alaska polar bears, Ice Bears of the Beaufort. Two other works in production include: Bears of the Last Frontier, a two-part PBS "Nature" program for which Arthur provided cinematography from Alaska's eastern and western arctic; and Heaven's Shore, a short cultural documentary produced at the invitation of the mayor of Kaktovik, Alaska. His work has also appeared on National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Films, and the Discovery Channel.