Francis Luta directed a once-in-a-lifetime documentary in collaboration with explorer, Adam Shoalts. In this interview, he talks about the challenges of filming Alone Across the Artic and how he became a filmmaker. Read more below!
Hi Francis, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! Your documentary, Alone Across the Arctic, looks gorgeous and incredibly intense at the same time. How did you get involved with explorer, Adam Shoalts and what inspired you to film his journey?
Thank you. I made a short film with Adam back in 2015 entitled Explorer where I basically introduce him as this modern day explorer. I went camping with him where we shot tons of b-roll showcasing his survival skills. I didn’t really think anything would come out of making the short up until he invited me to make a film about his next expedition. You don’t get an invite like that every day, so I said Yes! with wide eyes and creative wheels turning without fully grasping the enormity of the project. What’s most inspiring for me is his level of focus and dedication to his craft. I respect what he does because he does it so well, so even-keeled and so logistical. I got sucked into it and to this day I carry that same level of focus and dedication to what I do best. It’s the kind of expedition that can only happen once and we captured it.
What was it like working with Adam, and how did you two collaborate on a vision for this film?
Making the short film Explorer was a breeze. The feature film Alone Across The Arctic was an entirely different ball game. I, we, learned as we went in on how to work together. Sure, it had it’s challenging moments— moments that shadowed the entire experience to the point of questioning the whole thing because we are both so strong-willed and neither of us would give up that control unless one would present a viable, reasonable argument. I spent days with Adam going through the cut, fed him, reassured him, reasoned with him and collaborated on the bigger picture and what the message is. I get it, when a film is entirely about you, your face, your persona, your voice, your mandate— that is next level pressure. But I had my own creative that I needed to get from him and from the film as a whole. And getting there was for sure one of the hardest things I’ve done. I also edited the film, so I was both dealing with the technical and the creative and the personal. In the end, we were able to work it out, which is why you can now see it first on Apple TV available for pre-order April 28th 2020.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this documentary as the director? What kind of problems did you have to solve that you have never dealt with before when making a movie?
Wearing multiple hats for a passion project proved to be challenging at times. I directed, edited and produced alongside my partner Jeremy Benning who executive produced the film. As a director dealing with a real-life person in a non-fiction film had its moments where I had to take a step back and just let it unfold as the expedition went on. I wasn’t able to ask Adam to do certain things where he thought it wasn’t his style. The film is divided into three Acts. First act is the introduction, second act is the expedition and the third is the conclusion. Act two was shot entirely by Adam with the camera we provided for him. I directed him via satellite phone, but at the end of the day, at the time, the filmmaking aspect was low in his priority as he was racing to cross the finish line.
It must have been awe-inspiring to see Canadian arctic land that has been mostly untouched. Can you tell us more about this experience and what you hope people will appreciate when they watch the documentary?
It is unlike any other adventure film you’ve seen before. You get to see Northern Canada from a solo adventurer’s perspective as if you were there with him. You get to witness the land of the Arctic as it was in 2017 and quickly realize that it is forever changing due to the permafrost melting underneath Dempster Highway in the Yukon Territory, which is the only road to get up to the Arctic circle. The very road we took to drop Adam off to begin his trek. There are also plans to create nine new mines and a highway right in the heart of the Arctic that spans two provinces from Northwest Territories to Nunavut, driving north towards Arctic waters. This means Adam’s route by canoe and on foot can never be done again. The most disturbing of all is the lack of care for the disruption of the declining caribou herd all for the sake of mineral development. I’m not saying this is a hyper-environmentally political film but it certainly makes you think how this sacred land of the Canadian Arctic will be changed forever by the time it was made to the time it will become available for the general public to watch.
Tell us about yourself as a filmmaker. Where did you come from and how did you get started? What are you most passionate about when it comes to making movies?
I started in fine-arts, graphic design and advertising— alumni at the School of Design George Brown College. I started making my own videos, shooting whatever I can from family movies, vacation videos which parlayed into corporate videos. My first short film was shot with a VHS camcorder. It got more and more serious over time and managed to convince myself that I was ready to start introducing myself as a filmmaker to get bigger projects because at the end of the day, there’s nothing more enjoyable for me than to sit alone in the dark, with terabytes of footage waiting to be assembled and crafted.
Do you have any other projects or upcoming projects you can tell us about? Where can people watch your movies?
You can check out the streaming premiere of Alone Across The Arctic on Apple TV now available for pre-order: click here. My Vimeo page is always up-to-date with what I am working on: click here. In terms of other future projects waiting in the wings, well, I usually keep those secret until they are ready to be birthed.
Final question: if you wake up with one superpower, which one would it be and why?
This is always a fun question to fantasize about… I’d say The Snap. Where I’d literally snap my fingers and it does exactly what I want it to: Snap! delicious vegan meal in front of me. Snap! I’m luxuriating at the beach. Snap! we are at the end of the tunnel and vaccines are finally created for this Coronavirus.
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