Interview with Filmmaker James Daggett (SMALL FOOTPRINTS: CRAFTING AN ECO-LODGE IN WILD ALASKA)

SMALL FOOTPRINTS: CRAFTING AN ECO-LODGE IN WILD ALASKA was the winner of BEST SHORT FILM at the March 2021 ENVIRONMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I came up to Alaska for the first time in 2016 after getting a job at the very lodge featured in this film, the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. It was the most incredible first summer Alaska experience I could possibly have, but beyond the beauty of the landscape and the mind-blowing experience of spending a summer in Aialik Bay, I was immediately intrigued by meeting Kirk Hoessle (our main character), and the backstory of how the lodge came to exist. I returned in 2018 to work a second summer at the Glacier Lodge, and pretty much immediately pitched the idea of making a documentary about the story of construction, which Kirk initially wasn’t totally onboard to do. Over the course of that summer I pitched it to him two more times, all the while shooting as much as I could out in Aialik Bay and not necessarily knowing what would come of it, but hoping it would turn into a documentary film at some point. By September 2018 we were officially all on board, and production began in early 2019!

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Effectively 2 years, though a large amount of Aialik Bay footage was shot in 2018 before the project was even greenlit. Over the course of 2019 we conducted all of the interviews, my Vim Pneuma Media partner and I went out to the lodge to shoot over that summer, and I flew out to the village of Paluwik (Port Graham) to shoot in late summer 2019. We had first cuts in late 2019, and over the course of 2020 it was finalized, though the coronavirus slowed that process down.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Environment first.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The undertaking of a documentary project is certainly not an easy task, and I think trying to juggle this and our other documentary release, the feature-length Catherine’s Kindergarten, was a lot for a two-man company to handle. We both love documentary filmmaking, and it’s good to know now just how much dedication, expertise and patience it takes to bring a story together. Also, the challenges of shooting in Aialik Bay are plentiful: it’s a rainforest, and if you’ve seen the film, you know that it absolutely pours rain out there alllll summer long. That combined with trying to get good footage of wildlife, shooting from a kayak, operating a drone in very specific conditions (could not shoot in the national park itself, of course), lugging all our equipment around Pedersen Lagoon on foot…it was all quite challenging. On top of that, when David (my business partner) and I were shooting out in Aialik in the summer of 2019, there were raging wildfires all over the state, meaning we had a tremendous amount of footage that was smoky/tinted orange, and looked far too apocalyptic for this story.

As Kirk says: Alaska is the ends of earth in a lot of ways. Mother nature puts us to the test.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Pure joy, honestly. Kirk and Janeen Hutchins from Alaska Wildland Adventures, as well as David and I at Vim Pneuma Media, have worked so hard to get this project finished, and then were abruptly faced with a world in which film festivals weren’t happening in the same way anymore…that was devastating. I’ve been dreaming about showing a film in a theater in front of an audience since I was a kid, and now that I’ve finished two documentary projects, that opportunity isn’t quite the same. BUT there are so many amazing people working hard to bring virtual versions of festivals to the world, and that is amazing and I am so grateful for all of their hard work. It was a wonderful experience to hear real live humans who I’ve never met talk about my film!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

At the beginning of both of my summers working in Aialik Bay, Kirk sat the staff down and told us, effectively, what you hear in the film about the backstory of the lodge (though his presentation was far more detailed: he starts it in 14,000 BC). After hearing it for the second time in 2018, I knew it would make a great short documentary film, and got to work convincing Kirk to let me do it.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Oo….that’s a hard one. Unfortunately I think it’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, but only because I got lice in middle school and that had just come out on VHS and I watched it probably 6 times a day for a whole week.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is an amazing resource for a filmmaker, especially a smaller independent media company like mine. We have the resources at our fingertips to get our films out into festivals we think they’ll flourish within.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Mr. Brightside. It’s insane how many different places/countries/situations I’ve heard that song. Weddings, restaurants, stadiums, bathrooms, hotels, bars, elevators….to be clear, I’ve never once listened to it on purpose: but I’ve probably heard it close to 500 times. If this whole thing is a simulation, then the simulation designer’s favorite song has got to be Mr. Brightside.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

We have a feature-length documentary film, Catherine’s Kindergarten, currently making the festival rounds. My company is trending more towards short documentaries for the near future, and we are hoping to produce another Alaska-based project in the next year focused on the village of Pilot Point in Bristol Bay.

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