Greenland's Glaciers: a documentary film

Blog has been re-routed!!!

I am recording my experiences out at sea in Greenland here. Due to the small bandwidth, I’m not able to provide large image files for viewing but will upload a bunch when I’m back in the US on Sept. 26th.

Read about all of our adventures so far in preparing our equipment, loading the ship, and getting acquainted with each other and our surroundings!

 

Below: Jonathan and me getting into floatation suits as part of our safety meeting.

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Bremen: Wrap Up

I left Bremen 12 days ago and have since spent 5 days in Brussels, one in Copenhagen, and 6 in western Greenland. I’ve been working really hard to get the production of my film, Greenland’s Glaciers, underway, and here I am, finally posting a blog while out at sea, shooting hours upon hours of incredible footage of icebergs, mooring deployments, and our beautiful ship, the Sanna.

DCIM100GOPRO The Sanna docked for our expedition in Uummannaq, Greenland

But before I move on that quickly, I just want to mention that the video I produced for MARUM was completed and screened on August 29th. The video successfully features all that MARUM has to offer international scientists, from the great quality of life in Bremen to the fabulous facilities and research opportunities at the research faculty itself. I would like to share it with everyone except that it had to be taken down from YouTube due to some minor errors in the content of the video. This will be fixed in the next few weeks, when the video editor Nils is back from vacation in Corsica, and will then be posted back on YouTube.

Please check back in late September!

Not so far from home after all…

I came here expecting Germany to resemble the European country I know best, Belgum, where I was born and where I spent every summer until my 18th year. These bordering nations share many stereotypes: the people are reserved and cold, they subsist on meat, cheese, and potatoes, the beer is good, they vacation in Spain (Benidorm for Belgians, Majorca for Germans), and the weather is generally crummy. Though some of these preconceptions seem true in the first few days of travel, it quickly becomes clear how seriously misguided they are. The beer is not phenomenal, Germans will even mix in different sodas or syrups for a better flavor. I got a sunburn within the first week, though I think I’ve been very lucky with the weather. And I find that the people here are actually very friendly, open, eager to learn about new cultures, and have a goofy sense of humor.

Though I do not see a whole lot of profound resemblance between Belgium and Germany, there are little glimpses of the culture here in Bremen that catapult me back to my days as a young girl, spending my summers in the small city of Ieper in deep Flanders. Ieper is a city that was ravaged by war, rebuilt to preserve tradition, is surrounded by cow-country, and deeply Catholic. I have fond memories of strolling along the city walls, going to Sunday mass in Flemish, buying pastries filled with custard for breakfast, eating meat-potato mash for dinner, dipping butter cookies in my herbal tea before bed, and following my grandmother around as she tried to complete the wardrobe she had sown for me with socks and underwear purchased at the Saturday market. My mother later revealed that the brands sold there are not of good quality, yet all these years I felt that I had access to the highest-quality socks and underwear from a people that still received their milk directly from the dairy farmer and ate bread that was baked at 3am that day.

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Findorff Markt in Bremen on Saturday morning.

The markets here are very similar. You have your staple stands of fruits and vegetables, specialty meats, a variety of cheeses, eggs of all sizes, artisanal soaps, and of course, clothing. When I saw the socks and underwear my heart sank and I thought of my silly little grandmother who had convinced me that she has exposed the best-kept secret on earth. Everyone shops at those big department stores now, but I knew where to get the quality stuff. I touched the fabric of the clothing here and felt perplexed, who would buy this stuff? The socks and underwear looked especially dismal.

It’s amazing how magical childhood can feel and how little things can trigger a memory so poignant that the present barely matters anymore. I suddenly felt nostalgic for a place and time in my tiny history when the minute hand on my grandmothers clocked moved at an impossibly slow pace, when I could eat 10 crêpes and run around in the garden or jump in the pool with my cousin Marie-Hélène just minutes later, when I would beat a 70 year-old woman at a game of Stratego, or when I would crawl up into the attic to play with my mother’s dolls and read old comic books. There is something about being in Germany that inspires moments of serious introspection for me and provides an appetite for a simpler time, juxtaposed with the complications of filmmaking and discussing the latest deep-sea technology with leading scientists in their field. It’s simply a strange experience to be here and I have grown very fond of Bremen.

–As my time in Germany comes to a close I wanted to share some quick  reflections on two cities I visited over the course of my stay here. First Hamburg, then Berlin.–

Hamburg is a large port city nestled between the North and Baltic Seas. In my imagination, its city limits stretched to both coastlines and its streets were swamped by seafarers and wild winter ocean plungers. In reality, it is about an hours drive to either coast and the people there are composed, like to have a good beer, dress nicely, and live like anyone would in a metropolis of Northern Europe. If I could hire an illustrator to convey what once existed in my mind, you too might dream of coming to Hamburg. If I tell you what Hamburg is really like, well you would probably still want to come to Hamburg.

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It’s a really nice city. I only had a two day visit and don’t feel comfortable claiming to know anything at all. I will say, however, that it is a romantic city with beautiful cafés in quaint neighborhoods, high-end clothing boutiques, and a port culture that may exceed that of Boston. I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend from elementary school who reminded me of the life we led on an entirely different coast on Long Island, NY. Johanna has been living in Hamburg for 4 years now and is obtaining a masters in American Studies, perfectly done in Germany! We reminisced about 7th-grade class projects, school trips, and the general angst of 12 year-old girls.

Berlin is the kind of city I can see myself moving to upon graduating from OSU. I imagine starting out as a freelance videographer for different research institutes around the country, eventually establishing a small science film production company, settling into a spacious apartment in the “multi-cultural” quarter of Kreuzberg, learning German for 200€/month, 3 days a week (that deal actually exists), interacting with fellow filmmakers and movie buffs, and launch from there as a filmmaker in science. It is not the most beautiful city in Europe as most of it was destroyed by the war and mostly rebuilt during a tumultuous time. My friend Marc (who visited from NYC) and I had a hard time finding those quaint cobble-stoned streets lined with centuries-old facades one might hope for while in Europe. However, there is a lot of ambition, history, and sophistication here. It is one of the most lively cities without being disruptive or overwhelming. You can really breathe in Berlin, chat for hours over a coffee at 3pm along the canal, stumble upon free film screenings in building courtyards and drink a beer, or walk along the streets without a need to hurry or move on to the next thing. Berlin feels fresh, optimistic, and open to the world, and I am eager to return!

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I was fascinated by the remains of Berlin’s history surrounding both world wars, the DDR, and the wall. Top is a remaining section of the wall on the Eastern Berlin side, and Bottom is a the permanent “Topography of Terror” exhibition that covers the police systems of the Third Reich, both the gestapo and the SS.

I leave Germany tomorrow at noon…

As I prepare to leave Bremen and move on to the next thing, I find myself feeling a little lost. It’s strange to feel so attached to a place you barely had time to really get to know. I have loved my life here, the people I met, my job and co-workers, and the city. Now I am on to new a perhaps greater things, heading to Belgium for 5 days then off to Copenhagen to head towards Greenland. I will post one more entry from Germany, which will include the video I made while at MARUM and some lessons I learned in science filmmaking.

 

 

 

Filmmaking in the name of science… and my future

As with any trade, the more experience you have with your tool the harder it is to produce something great with it. Working as a filmmaker, particularly in science, is posing a lot of challenges at the moment. Some of these challenges can be attributed to my being abroad, working with people who have entirely different expectations, and some have to do with an enhanced awareness of the full potential of my tools; I am a camera-woman, sound-girl, director, producer, interviewer, and editor. It’s exhausting, a little daunting, but extremely exciting at the same time.

I have some major tasks ahead of me: to first produce a short promotional video for the MARUM institute with minimal tools and crew, then to board a research vessel off the coast of Western Greenland to shoot Greenland’s Glaciers, a film that could either launch my career as a science filmmaker or indicate that I should pursue something else!

Over time, however, I have recognized the importance of sticking to a single pursuit, especially one that excites and grabs you. I had dabbled in film all throughout college thanks to local filmmakers Juliana Brafa and Todd Bieber, who produce extremely compelling narrative-driven films, and my professor, Eric Faden, who has professionalized and expanded the film department at Bucknell University. I then pursued acting in NYC for a couple of years, and finally took production courses at OSU, which were extremely useful in terms of getting re-acquainted with the technology. Technological prowess in film takes years if not decades to cultivate, and I am still like a kindergartener struggling to understand the mechanics behind the alphabet.

So far while at MARUM I have shot four interviews – three with international post-doctoral scientists and one with the director of MARUM, Michael Schultz. Now looking at the footage, I notice something wrong with the composition, the lighting, the sound, or even the kinds of answers I am getting; I keep learning this same lesson — ask the same question again and provide some direction, “could you repeat that in one sentence and include the question?” I also find it challenging to ask the right questions when working with people from different cultures, when I am trying to extract key phrases from people who spend most of their time analyzing numerical models, or when my subject is extremely nervous. I also find that if I lack energy, they do too, so I’ve learned to remain perky and to gesticulate when I like where the answer is going. 

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Postdocs Alice Lefebvre (coastal dynamics) and Henry Wu (paleoceanography)

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PhD student, Gabriela Morais (ecological governance) and director of MARUM, Michael Schultz

Albert and I have spent a lot of time shooting “b-roll”, or the footage that will illustrate what the interviews communicate — shots of downtown Bremen, people biking through Bürger Park, the MARUM building, poster sessions, scientists working in the lab, etc.. I’m learning that pans (left to right) and tilts (up and down) are difficult and I have a new appreciation for high-quality tripods. I’m also learning to find the right balance between the aperture (f-stop) and distance from the subject to accomplish a shallower depth of field (less is in focus) with a camcorder, this is better accomplished with high end cameras with large sensors or DSLR cameras. Albert, a former science photographer, has taught me to see the beauty in the details and to compose images with patience. I feel as though Bremen, MARUM, and Albert were meant to be.

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We shot aerial footage of the campus from this 128-meter drop tower (normally used for gravitational physics research).

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Learning to pan with a monopod, impossible! Resorted to some handheld shots… also not so good. We may have to re-shoot these, and on a clearer day.

I have a lot of faith in myself as a science filmmaker, and since being in Germany I have gained a broader perspective of the role that film has and will play in science communication. I can sense that the filmmaking process, though a little invasive, is very exciting for the scientists as well. When I send an email out to some of the leading scientists of this institution asking for opportunities to shoot, I get immediate responses and people coming up to me wanting to brainstorm ideas. Just the other day I bumped into Gerhard Bohrmann who wanted to stage a computer modeling session on methane hydrates. Michael Schultz, himself an accomplished marine geologist, is truly invested in my project and will inquire about the process in passing.

I got similar impressions from the scientists I’ll be shooting in Greenland — Emily, Jonathan, and Dave. Emily seems especially hopeful that my film will not only inform non-experts on how or why the Greenland ice sheet is melting, but that it will inspire the younger generation to pursue important careers in science. Jonathan, though completely on board, seems a little skeptical at times, which is understandable considering how poorly represented science has been in the media lately. It takes a while to build the trust necessary to produce a truly sincere and intimate documentary but I sense that I’ve successfully built that trust. Dave has shot several of his own excursions and is an obvious advocate of making scientific research accessible to more people through video.

It turns out that this is not just about fulfilling some broader impact requirements as outlined by the National Science Foundation, this is about connecting the people who have the expertise to scrutinize, analyze, and make discoveries about the natural world to the people who live and breath that world. It makes utter sense to me that video has endless potential in accomplishing this!

There are so many independent production companies around here that have transformed the way we access scientific exploration. I’m especially fond of some videos produced by Science Media out of the Netherlands and recently discovered a smaller company in Lübeck, Germany called MedioMix, founded by two PhDs out of MARUM. In the next couple of weeks I will work as an apprentice to a small media company here in Bremen, eventfive, and will learn to accomplish filmic quality shots with a camcorder as I will be using the Sony EX1 to shoot Greenland’s Glaciers (I decided to abandon using a DSLR camera to shoot the film, this is maybe a discussion for another time!).

I’m continuing to enjoy my time in Bremen and promise to provide more anecdotes about my life here next time. Farmer’s markets, Bremen traditions, river culture, and my move to a new flat in the “Viertal” (which literally translates to the “Quarter”) to come!

 

Bremen, Germany: Week 1

Did you know that I am half German? My German ancestors originated from the Düsseldorf, Münster, and Hamburg regions and apparently my surname comes from here. Or so I thought. Since I’ve arrived in Germany I keep asking people, “isn’t my name so German?” People look perplexed and refute this notion of mine, then follow-up about my first name, which is apparently commonly found on name tags in big department stores.

I wanted to come to Germany not only to work as a videographer and science communicator at the MARUM institute at the University of Bremen, but also to get a sense of how inherently German I really am.

Day One: I thought not, no way am I German. I felt like such a foreigner, speaking and understanding nothing of the language, no one really looks like me, or rather I don’t look like them, and I couldn’t believe how disoriented I felt. I have traveled so much in my life, and lived abroad in several B-cities (strange no?) — Beijing, Budapest, Brussels — but for the first time I felt like a real foreigner.

Day Two: I’m still disoriented and completely tired. I get lost riding a borrowed bike through the main park on my way to work and arrive 20 minutes late, sweaty and panting. I’ve met my boss, Albert Gerdes, at MARUM, and seemed to have hit it off with him but I’m just not sure. My judgement is fogged by two sleepless nights and relentless anxiety, or was it nervousness?

Days Three & Four: I get settled in my office. Albert and I discuss my summer video project for MARUM and we seem to see eye to eye. He gives me quite a bit of freedom all while showing me the ropes of the institute. I’ve gotten to know the girl whose flat I’m living in, Antonia, and she’s taken me out with a few friends to the local beer garden. I’m feeling better about being here. I’m feeling more German.

The days continue to get better. I’ve gotten to know the park and my instincts take me on a better route to work each time. I get to know my colleagues at MARUM and bump into Marta Torres, a biogeochemist from OSU and a familiar face. She invites me to a talk she’s giving at a neighboring institute in this completely serene setting:

The Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK)

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I learned about hydrocarbon cold seeps, subduction zones, and gas hydrates. I get to hang out with leading geo-chemists and other fellows of the HWK – cognitive scientists, engineers, and musicians. I learn that these people, mostly scientists, are compassionate, hard-working, goofy, and seem to relish the life that their work has afforded them — weeks out at sea, collaborations with institutions abroad, and the endless challenge to understanding the natural world.

Back in Bremen I meet with the director of MARUM, Michael Schulz, and he seems delighted about my film project. We discuss how to attract scientists from across the globe to Bremen. He seems to appreciate my input and perspective, and we launch an initiative to increasing MARUM’s visibility abroad. My video will be the small green light at the end of the dock that draws top scientists to the port of MARUM.

MARUM Institute and the grand foyer:

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My wonderful office mates, Jana and Nils:

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Albert is completely wonderful. This past weekend he took my on a spontaneous bike tour along the channels of “Blockland”, just north of the city. Unfortunately, I do not have a visual documentation of this. Just imagine me on a rusty old commuter bike carrying a heavy red backpack  (I was made to believe this would be a city tour) and him on his gorgeous 80′s road bike, dressed for a 38km ride, cruising around the once wetlands, now converted cow pastures, of northern Bremen. We stopped for coffee and ice cream along a tributary of the Wese river, watching the tide go down. Yes, the tides produce a 4-meter ebb and flood twice over the course of the day. Something about dredging in the mid-1800s.

In the past two days, Albert and I have worked hard to write a press release in english on the latest MARUM study, to be published in Nature Geoscience, a highly competitive science journal. Can’t say much more on that right now but here he is battling with the lengthy email exchange over it:

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And here we are, two science communicators wading in a see of scientists, posing on a gorgeous clear day:

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Thank you for reading and I look forward to writing more next week. Take care!