Eva Wunderman, local documentarist and filmmaker extraordinaire, opened up to The Hope Standard about her journey into the Arctic, for a historical piece she is making about Swedish explorer and fur trader Petter Norberg, and the intersecting lives of his descendants. Part One “Braving the arctic winds,” was featured in our May 19 edition.
Wunderman is light and effervescent, as she speaks of her experience in the extreme cold of the small town of Kugluktuk, where she filmed the reunion of Petter’s great- grandnephew Fredrik Norberg (from Sweden,) and his great-granddaughter Edna Elias (former Nunavut commissioner.)
“I really love being behind the camera and not in front of it, that’s just the thing I can totally sympathize with the people I work with. I understand that when you have someone as a subject, it’s not that easy,” said Wunderman, as the interview began filming in her home (one she designed with an architect friend) atop Thacker Mountain, where she is currently logging hours upon hours of footage.
Wunderman got her start in radio, partly because of her Swedish accent, connecting her with Nick Versteeg who introduced her to the industry. The Stockholm born filmmaker started making corporate films, which led her to study directing at The Vancouver Film School.
“Someone had an idea for a documentary called “Truk Lagoon,” and Nick gave me the opportunity to direct it and it won the first Leo, the very first Leo for best director. I guess I got hooked I get ideas, and people give me ideas,” she said of her start in an industry that’s tough to crack.
The awards have continued for the authentic Swede, as she continues to search for exciting material. Admittedly, she found something intriguing, almost haunting about Petter’s story.
“Petter’s life is incredibly interesting and there’s even an island named after him. Edna first learned about Petter while pursuing her bucket list to trace her Swedish ancestors, and I thought, here I have two great grandchildren who are related to Petter.”
Last August, Wunderman went up to Kugluktuk with her cameraman Todd Craddock to film Edna in her Inuit surroundings.
“They are Inuits, but they actually call themselves Eskimos in that particular area,” she said. “When I was there I set up a meeting between Edna and Fredrik on Skype, and she invited him over.”
Fredrik and his dad went up to Kugluktuk with Wunderman and her crew in April, as she filmed the extraordinary ways of Inuit culture.
“We got introduced to how they live up there, and what Petter would have done when he lived there, and it’s not that much different now, even though there’s more modern facilities. They fish and hunt very much in the same way, they are very self-sufficient.”
The cold was shocking and daunting at times for the group, but they adapted, despite sub-zero temperatures and frostbite lurking in the air.
“I love, it’s such an incredible experience especially in the winter time. It was minus 30 and minus 40 with the wind chill factor, even in April, and I’ve done plus 40 while trumping through the jungle, it was nothing compared to this. I joke about it. You look like a blimp, who’s trying to rob a bank. You have a balaclava over your face and you need sunglasses as it’s so bright, they steam up and your lips get frostbite, if you take your gloves off you can’t feel your fingers. So, you can imagine doing a documentary and being out all day in this weather.”
While filming Fredrik, partaking in all of the traditional activities Edna’s people had to offer, the entire crew went ice fishing.
“We caught all sorts of fish, Arctic Char, Whitefish and Cod. It was fantastic that way, and one day we went seal hunting. I understand now, that if they catch a seal they use everything and it’s not that easy. They really work for their living, and I can see that it’s hard, even though I’m not a hunter and I’m kind of glad they didn’t catch one.”
Wunderman explained that seal hunters find little holes in the ice, where the seal comes up to breathe, and they literally have to stand completely still over them for hours, waiting for the seals to emerge.
The group took a trip to the Bloody Falls, which is in the Coppermine River where Petter is known to have vanished. Petter’s canoe was found in that location in 1937. It was a memorable moment for everyone according to Wunderman.
“Of course you go with snowmobiles now. They pulled us behind in a wooden box and we’re bouncing along in it for hours. It’s a fascinating place, really, I mean there are no stores except for the Northern Store, which is similar to a Co-op. You can get groceries, but it’s very expensive as it’s flown in. There are no roads, and there are close to 1200 people living in this community.”
Wunderman says, one day Edna’s relatives went caribou hunting “and they came back with five caribou and what they do is share. Any elders, or anybody who can’t hunt for some reason get fed. It’s very nice that way.”
When asked of the most challenging factors of the entire filming experience, Wunderman went back to the bitter cold her crew endured while spending countless hours each day in the outdoors.
“As soon as you take your gloves off to deal with the camera, or something, it only takes seconds before you can hardly feel your fingers, so that’s really tough, and I must say that my cameraman Todd Craddock has been filming in the North before, so he knows, but they were all troopers,” she said of her stalwart crew.
Wunderman also did some re-enactments of Petter’s life, including his wife portrayed by local artist Tiffany Ayalik.
There are some beautiful scenes according to the filmmaker who credits her team for putting 100 per cent into everything.
“It’s going to be exciting to look at all the footage.”
Stay tuned for the conclusion.