Invisible

We think of the arctic as a pristine wilderness, and when scientists went to collect breast milk from Inuit mothers, they were expecting to find the purest milk anywhere on earth. But the levels went off the scale. The milk of the Inuit mothers was loaded with chemicals which had migrated from the south and built up in their traditional food… the seal, whale and bear meat the Inuit people had been eating for centuries was slowly poisoning them. Today, scientists cannot find a single woman anywhere in the world who does not have these chemicals in her breast milk.

In this beautiful and thought-provoking film, artist and film maker Roz Mortimer leads us on a hypnotic journey to the High Arctic. Using historical texts, medieval maps and contemporary first person accounts, Mortimer explores the traditional relationship Inuit have to the earth and gently challenges our Western relationship to science and knowledge. This poetic and visually stunning film weaves epic scenes of contemporary Inuit life with startling throat singing performances and staged tableaux set within the frozen Arctic landscape.

INVISIBLE is driven by a unique musical score including free-yoik from Sami musician Wimme Saari, live and operatic throat singing from Inuit artist Tanya Tagaq and an exquisite theremin composition from Michael Kosmides.
 Featuring the award winning environmental scientist Theo Colborn; the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Sheila Watt-Cloutier; and Inuit mothers who offer emotionally charged testimonies; this provocative film resists the conventions of science documentaries and questions how we live in the world today.

Filmed entirely on Baffin Island, Nunavut, in the communities of Iqaluit and Qikiqtarjuaq.

Screenings & Comment

Screenings

Premiere: The British Museum, London. 11th January 2007
Institute of Contemporary Art, Birds Eye View Film Festival, London. 03/07
OxDox, Oxford Documentary Film Festival, UK. 03/07
45th Ann Arbor Film Festival, USA. 03/07
RISC, UK. 03/07
Dokumentarkino, Oslo, Norway. 04/07
Dochouse at Barbican Cinema, London. 04/07
Britspotting Film Festival, Berlin. 05/07
Rachel Carson Centenary Event, Curzon Mayfair, London. 05/07
Ecofilms, Rodos International Film Festival, Greece. 06/07
Cambridge Film Festival, UK. 07/07
Melancholic States, International Conference, Lancaster University, UK. 09/07
Rachel Carson Centenary Event, Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth, UK. 09/07
Camden International Film Festival, Maine, USA. 09/07
DOCSDF, International Documentary Film Festival of México City. 10/07
Cinema Verite, Iran International Documentary Film Festival, Tehran. 10/07
Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival, Toronto. 10/07
Picturehouse Cinema, Cambridge, UK. 11/07
Alternativa, 14th Independent Film Festival of Barcelona, Spain. 11/07
Festival dei Popoli, International Docu Film Festival, Florence, Italy. 11/07
One World Berlin, International Festival for Human Rights, Germany. 11/07
NOW, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Spain. 11/07
NOW, The Institut Municipal d’Acció Cultal in Lleida, Spain. 11/07
NOW, The Museum of Granollers, Spain. 11/07
NOW, The Principal Theater of Olot, Spain. 11/07
NOW, The Art Centre Cal Massó of Reus, Spain. 11/07
Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, UK. 12/07
One World Berlin, International Human Rights Film Festival, Germany. 01/08
Project Taxonomies, Comafosca Art Centre, Barcelona, Spain. 01/08
Royal College of Art, London, UK. 02/08
Imperial College, London as part of London Students’ Green Week. 02/08
The Flea Pit, London. 02/08
700IS 2008, Experimental Film & Video Festival, Iceland. 05/08
Trento Film Festival, Italy. 05/08
Persistence Resistance: a festival of contemporary political films
Magic Lantern Foundation and India International Centre, New Delhi, India. 04/08
Brave Festival, Wroclaw, Poland. 07/08
European Film Festival Palic, Subotica, Serbia. 07/08
Kendal Mountain Film Festival, UK. 11/08
Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, China. 12/08
Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival, Nevada City, CA, USA. 01/09
Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University, USA. 03/09
Sustainable World Film Series at Weatherspoon Art Museum, USA. 03/09
Persistence Resistance: a festival of contemporary political films
Magic Lantern Foundation and India International Centre, New Delhi, India. 04/09
UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities, London 11/09.
With panel discussion: Roz Mortimer, Ed Gillespie (Co-Founding Director of Futerra), Professor David Napier (UCL Medical Anthropology), Dr Claire Thomson (UCL Scandinavian Studies), Professor Matthew Gandy (UCL Urban Lab).
Quotes from the Earth Environmental Film Festival, India International Centre, Delhi. 12/10 +panel discussion
Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism, York City Screen, UK. 03/11
Procrastinator Theatre, Montana State University, Bozeman. With Q&A with Roz 02/11
Capturing Time film season, CCA Glasgow + Q&A with Roz. 07/11
Floating Cinema Hale Wharf, London. 09/11

Comment

A wonderful and profound work on the complex relations between a territory and its people.
– Trento Film Festival, Italy

The film, which features stunning visuals of the frozen north, as well as extended scenes of seal slaughter and touching interviews with Inuit mothers, is not unprovocative. I was hypnotized by its visuals. Yet, in dramatizing its narrative, the film works with certain tropes of indigenous peoples, in particular their putative ‘remoteness’ and their concomitant ‘purity,’ that critiques of ethnographic pastoralism have long called into question. At the same time, however, the film reflexively positions these exoticisms through the visual device of long shots of medieval maps, which represented the barbarous ends of the earth as populated by monsters and other frightening figures. So if the film reproduces a story about the loss of a kind of noble ‘elementary’ or ‘primitive’ existence through the spread of global pollution, it does so by asking the viewer to be explicit about the assumptions of that story. The film is a fascinating text exhibiting many contemporary anxieties: the fear that globalization will result in the loss of cultural diversity, the fear that the environment has been permanently polluted, the fear of loss of biodiversity. The isomorphic equation between the loss of traditions and loss of ‘nature’ is a provocative and fascinating aspect of contemporary zeitgeist. Yet, Mortimer is clear that her intention is not to make an ethnographic film.
– Thomas Strong (University of Helsinki Social and Cultural Anthropology)

This film is a fascinating documentary–art film hybrid, which opens with the discovery that breast milk in the Arctic contains levels of PCBs seven times higher than global average, and it tries to trace the origins of that contamination. Along the way we discover much that is fascinating about Inuit practices relating to (amongst other things) food, mothering and song/poetry, and we are encouraged to reflect on the numerous, invisible chemicals that we encounter everyday, and the ‘interconnectedness of all things’.
– Dr Claire Thomson (UCL Scandinavian Studies)

Stunning portrait of Inuit life that questions how we live in the world today. Part environmental expose and part art film, this powerful crossover piece flies in the face of conventional documentary making methods.
– Birds Eye View Film Festival, London

Mortimer’s film consolidates an awareness of the insipid effects of chemical pollution through audiovisual metaphor, evidence, and interviews, deploying and yet challenging ethnographic and scientific discourses at the heart of the documentary tradition [..] the film both alarms and enchants, offering an affective mode of spectatorship that aggregates connective possibilities between ethical thinking and ethical behavior. – Shilyh Warren (The University of Texas at Dallas).

‘[The] recent film, Invisible, by British artist Roz Mortimer, exposes the paradox – and drama – of Inuit mothers whose breast feeding transmits high levels of persistent organic pollutants into their children’s bodies. Mortimer’s camera pans slowly over the beauty of the deep white of the landscape, and the red stained snow as Inuit hunters bring seal and whale meat to Igloolik on Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The vivid and sometimes enigmatic imagery becomes a backcloth to the words of Inuit mothers and scientists commenting on the contamination of the seas and the marine life that is at the heart of Inuit culture.’
– The Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies (ed Bryan S. Turner 2010). Carlos Gigoux and Colin Samson.

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