Filming Worlds Apart

An interview with filmmaker-photographer Jason Van Bruggen

Jason van Bruggen is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker based in Canada. His lens has previously captured an incredible Adventure Canada journey through the Northwest Passage. We are thrilled to share Jason’s latest cinematic poem featuring AC staffer and author-explorer James Raffan, and caught up with him to ask some questions about his craft.


Adventure Canada: Jason, what draws you to the wilderness as a filmmaker?

Jason Van Bruggen: Our wilderness is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. Not only for its beauty, but also for the opportunities it provides us in terms of learning and reflection. As we enter an age of scarcity and climate change, these opportunities become more precarious. As a visual artist, I have a role to play in conserving wild places and encouraging an appreciation for them in others. Not only for their visual interest but for their profound importance. My passion for wilderness locations is decades old and predates my current role as a filmmaker and photographer. My current career choice was informed by a passion for wild places rather than the other way around. A fascination with intrepid travel has spanned my whole life. Growing up, I spent my summers on unsupported canoe trips in the Canadian backcountry, which is probably at the root of it. I have worked in the most remote and austere locations on the planet ranging from the Tibetan Himalaya to the deserts of Iraq, and spent time wandering around in well over a hundred countries. Wilderness travel and exploration have been profoundly formative and continue to provide me with boundless inspiration.

AC: What extra considerations does a filmmaker have to make when shooting in remote locations like the Arctic? How did you prepare? What is the hardest part about shooting in cold weather?

JVB: There are many, many additional considerations that go into shooting in remote locations, especially when travelling with a sophisticated equipment package. Preparation involves fastidious attention to detail, starting with the planning stages. You need to be ready for contingency, for equipment failure (total or partial) and have backups of all the essentials. The hardest parts about shooting in cold weather are pretty obvious—keeping yourself warm, keeping your batteries warm, and keeping your equipment running are always crucial.  

AC: Is there anything in particular that makes a shooting location special? What do you look for when gathering footage?

JVB: The light. The fleeting point of confluence at which light, topography, and activity all meet is what yields magic.

AC: Wildlife is notoriously hard to shoot. Is there anything you take into consideration to help get the perfect shot?

JVB: First off, I don’t think I have gotten the perfect shot. In my view, the best way to capture wildlife is to research where you might find the fauna you are looking for, identify a target location, and then spend time there. I prefer to wait in one place and get to know it intimately; this allows me to develop an understanding of where the best opportunities exist. This enables me to find the best light and, hopefully, understand the habits and interests of the animals I am shooting. Observing animals candidly, without disturbing them, is always the most rewarding. That being said, you can do everything right and walk away without a single shot. It’s a crap-shoot like that, especially in landscapes as vast and changeable as the Arctic.

AC: What was the most challenging shot in this most recent project?

JVB: Many individual shots had their challenges, but I think the most delicate part of this project was trying to strike a balance between a number of competing priorities. At the end of the day, this is a piece to promote Arctic travel on behalf of Adventure Canada. It is also a portrait of a friend of mine, and one that I wanted to make candid without being overly revealing. Like many of the stories that I imagine and film, I wanted this to be honest and to steer away from a clichéed interpretation of the North, exploration, and wilderness travel.

AC: Part of what makes your northern films and images so striking is the haunting, subdued palate. Can you comment on how you achieve such a vivid representation of local colour?

JVB: I try and represent on film what I feel when I am in the North. The Arctic, as it lives in my memory, is not an overtly colourful place. It is an eerily beautiful place, though. I see a great deal of photography which feels like it stretches the boundaries of credible human experience in the Arctic. While there are flashes of brilliant colour on many of my Arctic voyages, my emotional memory of the Arctic on most days is reflected in my colour treatment of both still and moving images.

AC: How would you describe the experience of working with Adventure Canada?

JVB: I love these guys. It’s a family-run business with tremendous purchase in the communities we visit and huge respect for the part of the world in which they travel. Those relationships have taken decades to build, and aren’t something that can be bought. The resource staff aboard the AC vessels keep coming back, year after year, for the same reasons that I do—we get to work with great people in amazing places.

AC: What is your dream shoot? Somewhere you haven’t been, and always wanted to?

JVB: Tough question. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot , and get to a lot of ‘bucket list’ destinations. I want to continue to explore the most compelling and hard to get to pieces of wilderness in Canada, and around the world. If I had to narrow it down, I would say all of National Parks in Canada that I haven’t been to yet.

AC: Thanks very much, Jason!

JVB: Thank you!


Jason’s work is focussed on depicting North American wilderness, including the Far North in a manner that is authentic and narrative—building new interpretations of these landscapes. Favouring travel that brings him in direct contact with the frontier and those who inhabit it, Jason’s immersive work seeks to explore these emerging landscapes and capture the vulnerability of the ecosystems and the people who live within them, illuminating a tension between the strength and fragility of the region; the age-old resolve to survive, and the current intention to thrive in places where scarcity fosters incredible ingenuity, resilience, and hospitality. Visit his portfolio online for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jason Van Bruggen.

Meet Chief Mi’sel Joe

CHIEF MISEL JOEMi’sel Joe was born in Miawpukek in 1947 to a family with strong ties to the community. Both his grandfather and uncle have held the office of hereditary Saqamaw—a high ranking spiritual leader traditionally tasked with spiritual and cultural leadership. His great great uncle, Morris Lewis, was the first appointed Chief in Newfoundland by the Grand Chief in Mi’kmaq territory. Mi’sel was educated in the Mi’kmaq ways and traditions, and at sixteen was given the alternative to either leave the reservation to seek employment, or travel to a neighbouring community to attend secondary school. He chose the former.

During his years away from the community, Mi’sel travelled widely and cut his teeth on a wide variety of professions. He worked in farms and factories, in construction and on railroads. He drove trucks and operated heavy machinery. He worked on fishing boats and in mines underground, and acted as labour foreman. But years passed, and in 1973 he moved back to Miawpukek.

Since then, Mi’sel has been been involved in First Nations Politics, initially as a councillor. After the death of his uncle, Chief William Joe, in 1982, Mi’sel became Saqamaw and Newfoundland District Chief for the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. He is currently in his sixth consecutive two-year term as Administrative Chief for the nation, and is recognized provincially, nationally, and internationally as a spiritual leader and healer, ambassador of his people. He has presented on native medicines and traditional healing practices at international medical conferences and hosted the 1996 International Healing Conference at Miawpukek. He is on the board of Parks Canada, a mentor of the Trudeau Foundation, a member of the First Nations Trust Fund, and sits on the Executive Council of the Atlantic Policy Congress. In 2004, Mi’sel was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador in recognition of his contribution to the economic, social, and political development of the Mi’kmaq people of the province.

Adventure Canada is proud to be setting sail in 2015 with Chief Mi’sel Joe on our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador expedition. This stunning itinerary departs from Saint-Pierre, France, and travels up the west coast of Newfoundland before crossing into the wilds of Labrador. As we move north, Chief Mi’sel Joe will be on hand as a member of our elite team of resource specialists, helping to share his wealth of knowledge and experience in—as well as his lifelong love for—the region. We are also thrilled to be stopping in Miawpukek (Conne River) on our 2015 Newfoundland Circumnavigation expedition, where we look forward to meeting with the community and sharing stories. Just one more way Adventure Canada is helping to spread culture, knowledge, and community.

Chief Mi’sel Joe will be delivering the 2015 Whipper Lecture on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, at the Canadian Canoe Museum (in partnership with Adventure Canada) in Peterborough, ON. Join us for an evening that promises to be enlightening and entertaining—free to all museum members, and $10 for non-members. The lecture includes a free guided tour, starting at 5:30PM. RSVP to 705-748-9153 or info@canoemuseum.ca for more information.

For more information about our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador itinerary, click here!

My First Adventure

I grew up canoeing in Algonquin Park. I’m used to sleeping under the stars and battling hordes of insects; I’m no stranger to the raw power of a thunderstorm or the perfect moments of stillness at the day’s end. I have shot rapids and portaged thousands of kilometres with a boat on my head and a song on my lips; I have fished for my supper and stared down moose in the deepest of swamps.

But nothing prepared me for Greenland and Labrador.

Evighedsfjord

Nothing prepared me for the Greenlandic fjords, their grey-blue waters and ice-capped, soaring peaks that slipped in and out of low wisps of cloud. Nothing prepared me for the playful seal that dogged our progress, nor the profound calm as winter approached the continent.

Davis Strait

Nothing prepared me for crossing the Davis Strait in storm-tossed seas; desperately clinging to my bunk (and my sanity) and waiting for my Scopolomine patches to kick in. And then, once they did: screaming into the wind from the observation deck, laughing as the bow of the Sea Adventurer smashed through the waves, hurling spray hundreds of feet into the air. The sound was like a thunderclap.

Torngat

Nothing prepared me for the glasslike waters and towering summits of the Torngat Mountains, the panoply of colour and might that lay quiet and daunting on the Labrador coast. The sunshine that day was like something out of a fairy tale. Nothing prepared me for our brush with the polar bear that morning, watching agape as he tore great hunks of flesh from a seal carcass.

Torngat 2

Nothing prepared me for driving a Zodiac in gale-force winds during our arrival at Hebron, the abandoned Moravian mission. The waves crashed over me in salty tumult, my hands numb inside the bricklayer’s gloves I’d borrowed off a friend. But we made it. I made it.

Nothing prepared me for the thrill of diving into the 3°C waters off Labrador’s coast, waters deemed too warm by our Expedition Leader, who compensated for this setback by tossing a few trays of ice cubes into the drink.

Polar swim

Kiddos, Nain

Nothing prepared me for the smiling faces of the children in Nain, the celebration at the school as we descended on the community en masse and equipped them with the gear for two complete hockey teams. They followed us back down to the docks, laughing and singing. Some of them hopped in our Zodiacs and rode around the harbour, hooting and hollering.

Nothing prepared me for the soft grass and undulating dunes of Byron Bay, or the majestic shoreline of Castle Island, or the perfect moments on deck when the sunrise would play against the ship just so. Nothing prepared me for the northern lights that pulled us from our bunks late one night, to shiver in raincoats and pyjamas and look up in wonder.

Henley Harbour

Byron BayDawn

Nothing prepared me for the warm welcome at Conche, the steam rising from our soaked overclothes as we inhaled plates of the freshest cod in Canada. As we ate elbow-to-elbow at tables of grinning Newfoundlanders beneath garlands of crepe paper, the guitar picked up, and then the accordion, and then someone started to dance. Black clouds and wind muttered and grumbled outside.

Fogo bell

Nothing prepared me for the unsurpassed hospitality of the town of Fogo, where I played a hundred-and-fifty-year-old pump organ, climbed into the belfry of a church, shouted from one of the corners of the flat earth, and ran along a coastline wild and heedless of man and all the more perfect for it.

Nothing prepared me for the stillness that would take hold of our hearts on the last morning as the Sea Adventurer made her way up the narrows and into St. John’s harbour, nor the song that would waft across the breeze.

St. John's

Nothing prepared me for the hundred-odd strangers who had come together in two short weeks to share in something marvellous, something inexplicable, something powerful.

I have been searching for a long time for a way to bring together my love for the wilderness with my love of the written word, and with Adventure Canada I have done just that. I would like to thank everyone aboard Greenland & Wild Labrador 2014 for making me feel welcome, for trusting in the new guy (my Zodiac was always the cool Zodiac, thank you), for experiencing this sublime corner of the world with me. There is no shortage of wonder to be sought, and the adventure is just beginning.

Saglek

—Mike Strizic

Conche selfie

Melanesia: where is it, anyway?

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Melanesia is relatively unknown in the North American travel market—so much so, that people are often surprised to hear Melanesia is a where, not a what.

You’ve probably heard of Polynesia? Ah yes, images of palm trees, over-water bungalows and fruity drinks on the beach are probably coming into focus now. Well, Melanesia isn’t much different in terms of being a bit of paradise in the South Pacific Ocean.

Along with Polynesia and Micronesia, Melanesia makes up one of the south Pacific Ocean’s three cultural areas.

Melanesia is actually significantly closer to Australia and New Zealand—where it’s a well-known adventure destination—and comprises many places you probably have heard of: Fiji, Solomon Islands, New Guinea (including Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua), New Caledonia, Santa Cruz Islands, and the island archipelago, Vanuatu.

Guinea (1)Does Melanesia sound a little more attractive now that you know what, and where, it is?

The history of Melanesia actually makes for some great discussions as the ethnicity, wildlife and geography of these islands are quite different from those further east in the Pacific.

Most notably, there are more than 1,300 languages spoken in Melanesia – making it the most diverse land area on Earth in terms of languages and religions.

If birds are more your thing, Melanesia has recorded more than 500 species, with 200+ of those being endemic.

Guinea (7)

If you think of Polynesia as a popular beach paradise, then think of Melanesia as its lesser known, more adventurous, little sibling. Just the kind of travel destination we love. See you there in 2014?

Adventure Canada offers two excursions to Melanesia: Secrets of Melanesia and Melanesia Discoverer.
Expedition leader Aaron Russ will present both trips, Tuesday June 25, at Pangaea Restaurant in Toronto.
UPDATE: This presentation has been cancelled due to illness. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Red Hunt has worked in many aspects of the travel industry and is the passionate voice behind redhuntravel.com. Red has just joined our team at Adventure Canada and will be sharing some of his experiences and perspective in this space. Welcome, Red! -ed.

25th anniversary brochure!

Click to scroll through the brochure online!

Click to scroll through the brochure online!

For months now, the team at Adventure Canada has been working on something our guests look forward to year after year: our new brochure.

Adventure Canada travellers love to dream, and we know they often thumb the pages of our brochures time and again as they plan the perfect adventure.

This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first tour, to the Arctic in 1988. So we went to extra effort to celebrate the milestone.

The trips we’re featuring for 2013-2014 are chosen from among our very best – including a new trip to Sable Island, and a return to Antarctica in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Endurance expedition. We think the look and feel of this beautiful document reflects the craft and care that went into planning these amazing trips.

We hope you’ll enjoy the new brochure, Canada and the North. If you’d like a copy for your coffee table or night stand, just let us know.

To view in full screen mode, click on the expand icon (a small square inside a larger square.)

Heart of the Arctic: for lovers (of adventure)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just like the guests in this beautiful video, we’re born romantics at Adventure Canada.

And nothing’s more romantic to us than the Heart of the Arctic.

Travelling in style on a journey from coastal Greenland, to Iqaluit, beneath a summer sun that never leaves the sky, makes an ideal getaway for lovers—of adventure.

Seabirds swirl, polar bears prowl, whales wallow in the water the water—and awestruck adventurers experience the trip of a lifetime among magnificent icebergs beneath and endless skies.

That’s our idea of a perfect Valentine.

Heart of the Arctic runs from June 24 – July 6, 2013.

Adventure on the horizon!

It’s a busy time at the Adventure Canada headquarters along the icy shores of Port Credit, Ontario.

We may be gazing out at the depths of winter, but our minds are on the spring and summer seasons stretching ahead of us. And no wonder: just look at the trips ahead of us as we celebrate our 25th year in style.

Lovers of exotic locations will be excited to hear we’re heading back to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands shortly, followed by Cusco and Machu Pichu. Fans of “Britain’s Better Half” will want to know all about our two trips to that legendary destination: Scotland Slowly, and Scotland to Greenland.

And then, as spring flings into summer, comes a series of the Arctic excursions for which we are so well known. Take your pick of Heart of the Arctic, Alianiat Arts Festival, Into the Northwest Passage, Out of the Northwest Passage, and Artic Explorer.

As the summer sun hangs high in the sky, you’ll find us heading slowly southward again in style, via Greenland and Wild Labrador, and our spectacular Newfoundland Circumnavigation.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the Great Bear Rainforest beckons the adventurous traveller. And don’t miss your chance to visit the wild vistas of  one of the world’s ten remotest parks, with Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Torngat Mountains Heli-Hiking.

That’s only a sample of what we’re doing, and where we’re going this year. Hope you’ll join us!