Myken could be a thousand places in Norway. A tiny, granite-and-wildflower archipelago located above the Arctic Circle at 66°45′52″N, some 32 kilometers from the mainland, only forty years ago Myken was a thriving fishing community of more than 120 people. In 1981, an accident at sea with seven fatalities dealt the island and its fishing industry a heavy blow. People began to leave in search of jobs, bigger schools for their children, greater proximity to friends and family on the mainland. Today, Myken is home to only six permanent residents.
Places this small are by their nature vulnerable: even small shocks to the system can prove fatal. In fact, the most surprising thing about Myken may be that it has survived for so long. Myken has been kept alive in no small part by the resourcefulness and tenacity of its community, who have tried everything to bring new life and jobs to the island, from manufacturing electronics to hosting refugees. This year, things are looking up. New businesses are sprouting, and some long-time visitors are considering moving permanently to the island. What is the source of this unexpected resilience, and can it bring Myken back from the brink of extinction?
This summer, we are taking our first filming trip to Myken to capture enough material for a short film and to lay the foundation for a longer documentary.
How we got here
(a note from the director)
Taking the ferry from Bodø to Myken last summer, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was leaving reality. The air was saturated with rain that never seemed actually to fall. The islands we passed less and less frequently took on a surreal, anthropomorphic quality; I could almost make out the form of the giant from whom the world was made, according to Norse myth.
I was on my way to visit Bjørn Skauge, a very remote relative that I first discovered seven years ago. In 2007, I had just started taking Norwegian classes, and a slightly less distant uncle told me we had a cousin living on a tiny island above the Arctic circle. Would I like to subscribe to the newsletter he published, to practice? And so I became the 161st subscriber to Myken-Nytt, a little publication with a mostly-electronic circulation that reported on major (and minor) events on the island of Myken. (My subscription to the newsletter made its front page.) Considering that Myken had fewer than ten year-round residents at the time, Myken-Nytt’s circulation gave it the highest subscriber-to-resident local news source in Norway, Bjørn reckoned.
When Bjørn published his last issue of Myken-Nytt in 2011, it boasted 472 subscribers – about 70 times the number of people living on the island. Today, the Facebook group that succeeded it has 700 members. A bizarre trend for a community that by outward appearances was approaching the end of the line. I wondered how many of the subscribers were like me, people who had fallen in love with the idea of Myken without ever having been there.
What I found on Myken last summer did little to dispel the magic of my first approach. I met an Icelandic couple who had moved to the community after Bjørn ran a piece in an Icelandic newspaper inviting people in the recession-hit country to find jobs and a good life in a small Norwegian town. I met a family who spent an unplanned five days in Myken after their boat vacation was interrupted by bad weather – and later decided to stay for a year in order to keep the island’s school open. Clearly something was drawing people to Myken, and something was holding them there.
The main conversation on Myken, now and for the past few decades, has been on how the community can attract new people, especially families, and new jobs. There has been no shortage of creative ideas. Some, like Myken Elektronikk, a business that employed a lifetime total of 52 people soldering electronic printcards between 1990 and 2002, have achieved success. Others, such as an petition this past winter to host families of Syrian refugee, have not proven viable. But one thing is clear: Myken is a project, one which is gaining momentum by the day. And this year, which sees the beginning of new initiatives, including a boat tourism company, and the Arctic's first whiskey distillery, will be an existentially important one for this island.
So this is, it turns out, a creation story after all: a creation story for the 21st century. And that is why we want to document and share this moment with you.
I was interviewed once, back in that Norwegian class, for the San Francisco Seaman's Church magazine. I found the issue again recently:
“Og kommer jeg meg noen gang til Norge, så skal jeg til Myken,” smiler Saya, som neppe vet at akkurat den reisen ikke er gjort i en håndvending. (Next time I go to Norway, I will definitely visit Myken, smiles Saya, who is barely aware that that particular journey is not done in the snap of one’s fingers.)
Indeed it is not. But what journey that is worth the effort is?
The film will be based on interviews, primarily in English but with some Norwegian, of Myken’s residents and visitors. Our target audience will be both Norwegian and international, based on our belief that Myken’s situation as a shrinking community at a crossroads – and its story of survival – is one that will have relevance and resonance both far afield and close to home.
What your contributions will support
We are raising money to cover the production of our first shoot on Myken, planned for the summer of 2014. We will be visiting the island during the height of its summer tourist season to capture the town at its most bustling and hear from as many visitors as we can what has drawn them to Myken.We will use the material from this trip to put together a documentary short.
Equipment rental and insurance represent our largest cost - almost 60 percent of our budget, and a key reason we are turning to Kickstarter. Another 20 percent will go towards travel, lodging and food, 10 percent to Kickstarter and Amazon fees, and the remainder to the backer rewards we're planning for you.
Because Myken’s future will be decided by the success of several initiatives that we will document this summer, we envision this summer’s shoot to be the start of a 3-5 year journey towards a feature-length documentary. We want to come back and visit the island in the depth of winter and be there in 2017 when the first barrel of Myken whiskey is tapped. And we know there will be plenty of surprises in between! By backing our project this summer, you will also be supporting an important first step towards this larger goal.
Thank you so much for your support!
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge with this project is, of course, the nature of the situation on Myken. When we first decided we wanted to make this film last August, we wondered if we might be chronicling Myken's final summer. Since then, things have become much more optimistic. Given that this is the start of what we intend to be a longer documentary project, what we shoot this summer may end up playing an unexpected role in the larger story once we zoom out. We are committed to telling an honest story, no matter how much it deviates from our initial expectation, and hope our backers will support that principle.
Another challenge is the filmmakers' time constraints. Our shoot on Myken this summer will only be 10 days - a very compressed time schedule to be sure. We are organising the interviews we know we want well ahead of time, and also approaching this trip very much as the first step in a longer process. We know we will want to return during low season, and to be able to record major events that happen on the island over the next few years. Given how long it takes to get to Myken and our own time constraints, it will be challenging to be as flexible as we need to be to not miss anything important. As part of our trip this summer, we will ensure that all three of us are trained on the camera, lighting and sound equipment so that we are not dependent on any one team member's presence on future shoots.
Lighting and weather are notoriously unpredictable on Myken. As you can see from her reel, Hana has worked extensively on seaside shoots, and is experienced in planning equipment - and insurance - accordingly.
And finally, there is a slight language barrier. Many people on Myken speak fantastic, enviable English. Some of the subjects we want to interview do not. Saya's Norwegian should be sufficient to handle these interviews, and we will use subtitles as necessary for non-Norwegian-speaking audience. We feel the most important thing is for our interview subjects to be able to express themselves clearly and authentically.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (25 days)