Country of production: United Kingdom
Running time: 25 minutes
On a remote coast of the Siberian Arctic in a wind-battered hut, a lonely man waits to witness an ancient gathering. But warming seas and rising temperatures bring an unexpected change, and he soon finds himself overwhelmed.
As a photographer and a filmmaker native to the Siberian Arctic, we have been covering stories in the region for more than a decade. However, we never felt the climate emergency in such a visceral way as during the shooting of this film.
The story is simple in its form: an observation of a three-month-long field season of the Russian marine biologist Maxim Chakilev on a remote coast of the Arctic ocean in Chukotka.
In the beginning of the film, Maxim is a mysterious figure. It is unclear what he is doing in this harsh and isolated place until the reason of his presence is revealed in a shocking overnight haulout of an estimated 100 000 walruses, the biggest on the planet. The scale of this gathering is a result of the diminishing sea ice. In the past, walruses would rest on the floating ice during their migration and come out on land in much smaller numbers, but in 2020 the Chukchi Sea was completely free of ice.
The audience is literally placed in the middle of the climate crisis. The claustrophobic and crumbling hut feels unsafe and fragile, just like the animals surrounding it and the human being inside.
This film is a report on the consequences of global warming in the Arctic and, at the same time, a tribute to the stubborn dedication of scientists who work in these lands with a great personal commitment.
Directors and Producers
EVGENIA ARBUGAEVA and MAXIM ARBUGAEV
MAXIM ARBUGAEV and EVGENIA ARBUGAEVA
EVGENIA ARBUGAEVA and JOSHUA CHADWICK
Sound design and Sound Mix
Maxim Chakilev was born in 1987 in the small village of Kuva in Perm region in Russia. He studied microbiology in the university. After graduation he moved to Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka to work in the Marine Mammal Laboratory at the Pacific Branch of the Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography. Since then every autumn for the past decade Maxim studied Pacific walruses on the Cape Serdtse-Kamen (Cape Heart-Stone) in Chukchi Sea. His solitary field work takes place in August and throughout November when he observes the haulout of almost the entire population of Pacific walruses.
DIRECTOR’S BIOGRAPHY / FILMOGRAPHY
Evgenia Arbugaeva, b.1985 and Maxim Arbugaev, b.1991 are sister and brother, born in the town of Tiksi, located on the shore of the Laptev Sea in the Republic of Yakutia. Their work often looks into their homeland — the Arctic, discovering and capturing the remote worlds and people who inhabit them.
Maxim Arbugaev is a director, cinematographer, producer and winner of various international film festival awards, including the Sundance Film Festival 2018 where he received a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography for the film Genesis 2.0, which he co-directed with Christian Frei.
Filmography: The Hunters /2015/Russia/documentary short
Genesis 2.0 (co-director Christian Frei)/2018/Switzerland /documentary VOY /2019/Russia/documentary
Evgenia Arbugaeva is a documentary photographer based in London, UK. She is a National Geographic Society Fellow and a recipient of the International Center of Photography Infinity Award and the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (Awards for an outstanding photography). Her work has been exhibited internationally and appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Time Magazine and the National Geographic magazine among others. HAULOUT came out of the
photography project Evgenia did in Chukotka for a few years. The film is her directorial debut.
A haulout is a place of refuge where walruses gather, reproduce, and socialize. It includes female and male animals as well as calves. Normally, walruses spend most of their time at sea hauled out on ice floes as they forage for food on the ocean floor, but climate change and sea ice decline forces them to haul out on land instead.
Throughout the Arctic, sea ice is forming later in the season and disappearing earlier, limiting the amount of space available for walruses to congregate. Floating summer sea ice is also receding further north to where the water is too deep for the animals to dive and feed. This forces them to seek refuge ashore. Once on land, the walruses must travel much longer distances — up to 250 miles round trip—to reach their food supply, This leads to exhaustion and vulnerability to injuries and deaths in the crowded haulouts where stampedes and trampling happen several times a day.
Pacific walruses reached record-low numbers in the early 1960s due to commercial hunting but rebounded by the 1980s following significant conservation efforts. Currently, the Pacific walrus population is once again in decline — with about 129,000 animals left.