Okanagan filmmakers raising funds for journey

Project details environmental damage done to wildlife off island in the Pacific

Three years ago, photographer Chris Jordan along with Okanagan filmmaker Jan Vozenilek and the rest of the Midway journey team had trouble getting people to believe that the horrifying images they were making on the tiny Pacific atoll were real.

In fact, when photographer Chris Jordan began showing his startling and beautifully grotesque images of dead albatrosses with bellies full of pop bottle caps, lighters and other plastic trash, he was accused of faking them.

Nowadays, after six trips to the island, the team is still bringing back shocking evidence of the effects of mankind on the environment, but few are trying to claim they are faked anymore. In fact, the team is almost ready to begin work on a full-length documentary and have turned to Kickstarter, a fundraising site, to find the money.

“There are probably another one or two trips to go back and get film of aspects that we are still missing,” said Vozenilek.

They hope to use Kickstarter to raise the money needed for those trips, as well as the cost of bringing a top-level editor onto the team to help assemble the film.

Along with that, there are a range of expenses to complete production of the film for release, including the cost of the musical score, sound editing, production of multiple versions of the film for release through television, Internet, theatres, etc.; translation of the film into multiple languages; creation of educational curriculum materials for teachers; creation of a state-of-the art website and mobile apps with user forums and additional resource materials; and other associated costs to reach a global audience with their message.

There has also been some interest, Vozenilek said, from Hollywood. The team is talking to a studio, but at this point is being cautious.

“How much do we want to let go of our vision,” said Vozenilek, adding that the feeling is they would like to stay true to the story they want to tell.

That story, he said, has become easier to tell as the team gained credibility. The scientists and game officials on Midway, Vozenilek said, truly appreciate the work they are doing and the task they have taken on to tell the world about the problem.

And it is a frightening problem. According to Vozenilek, the scientific community at Midway estimates that 99 per cent of the birds have plastic inside them and are carrying about five tons of it each year to the island.

It’s tough dealing with what he sees on Midway, he explained, though there comes a “certain numbness.” But then there are times when that wall breaks down, like when they could only watch and film from a high breakwater while young albatrosses, trapped in a swirl of plastic trash and netting, struggled and died.

“There was no way to save them. It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Then there are times away from the island and filming, when he has to struggle with entrenched attitudes, as on an airline flight when a stewardess refused to refill his steel water bottle, insisting that it had to be poured into a plastic cup first.

“It is in me so deep, and when you see nonsense like that it is tough to take it and not say anything,” said Vozenilek. “Through being so close to this for the last three years, I think I have become more of an activist.”

Vozenilek was recently in Washington D.C. to take part in a panel discussion for the Smithsonian Institution’s Age of Plastic exhibition.

“I got beaten up fairly good, but I stood my ground,” jokes Vozenilek. One of the presenters, representing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, made a reference to “marine debris,” a term that Vozenilek took exception to.

Using such a generic term, he said, removes our individual responsibility and connection to the problem.

“It removes responsibility, instead of calling it what it is, plastic pollution,” said Vozenilek, adding that this is the same plastic trash that can be found on Okanagan beaches, lakes and rivers, eventually making its way through the ecosystem and out to sea.

Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter are a new way for creative projects to find funding and the competition is stiff. But Vozenilek is optimistic that the Midway documentary will be one of the ones that succeed.

“There are lots that make it. When people see something they believe in, they really support it,” he said.

Information about the Midway Journey project, links to their Kickstarter page and a trailer for the documentary are available online at midwayfilm.com.