When burning waste is a better option than recycling, you’re not going green—you’re going Greenland.
Written by: Rachael Joy
In nonfiction production, inspiration often comes from unusual characters. But what happens when the character is the world’s largest island, covered mainly in ice and inhabited by only 65,000 people? When producer David Casey visited Green-land for the first time, the country itself became his inspiration. “It was a life-changing experience and created in me an almost biological belief that what is happening to Greenland matters to everyone. From that moment, it had been a life goal to get back to Greenland and to broadcast the stories of Greenland to as large an audience as I could, any way possible.”
In a land brimming with amazing stories and stunning back-drops, Casey struck gold when he decided to develop a series on the mining industry. Produced by Moxie Pictures and airing on Animal Planet, Ice Cold Gold follows the mining company Sixty Degree Resources and its eight members as they try to strike it rich in one of the harshest, most inhospitable places in the world.
With the arctic summer lasting only two months, the cast prospects and mines throughout Greenland hoping to unearth hidden fortunes before the arctic winter comes back, covering everything with ice. During this small window, the prospectors endure severe arctic storms, icy boat rides, fatal rock slides, volatile ice sheets and utter isolation. And so does the crew.
“These guys, just in one episode alone, they traveled over 1,000 miles,” says Casey. “They were in Aasiaat, above Aasiaat, about 40 miles, and they traveled another 450 miles south to meet up with the rest of the miners, and then all those miners went back to Nuuk. It was an incredible endeavor. And then on the way, you’re seeing rubies pulled out of the rock, you’re seeing gold, and you’re seeing some of the largest icebergs in the world just caving off of glaciers in Aasiaat.”
The Hollywood Reporter noted that, “Ice Cold Gold … marks the first TV production of this caliber to be shot in Greenland.” For Casey, the challenge to build production infrastructure from the ground up was also an opportunity to set up sustainable practices from the beginning.
“We’ve always been conscious of our carbon footprint and our social and environmental impact on Greenland itself and what that actually means, not only behind the camera as the production but the eyeballs and the awareness we’re creating to millions of viewers.”
Casey realized quickly that involving local producers was crucial to navigating the complexities of filming in Greenland, as well as understanding the culture. Nina Paninnguaq Skydsbjerg Jacobsen is a local producer who shares Casey’s vision for sustainable production. “In Greenland we have this philosophy that started earlier with the Inuit, and it’s the Mother of the Sea. The Mother of the Sea is or was God, basically, and provides everything—all sustenance, all food, all game. The Greenlander is rewarded by the Mother of the Sea, but if the Greenlander takes too much, the Mother of the Sea takes away. So it’s this core belief of sustainability.”
The country of Greenland may value sustainability, but the remote landscape itself made implementing environmental practices difficult. Right away, the production team hit a major obstacle regarding waste management. Because the population of Greenland is only 65,000, with only 17,000 in the capital of Nuuk, the country hasn’t instituted recycling services and currently burns their trash. The production properly disposed of compost but had to weigh the monetary and environmental pros and cons of shipping thousands of pounds of recycling out of the country.
“Ninety percent of everything except for hunting and fishing [yields] is brought in from Copenhagen, New Zealand and Argentina, all the way up to the Arctic. So if they recycle it up there for only 65,000 people, they’re not creating a huge impact anyway. So it actually creates more waste to recycle in Greenland than just burning it does.”
In an effort to create less waste, the production systemized gear and travel to be as efficient as possible with the smallest footprint. They removed all packaging and streamlined gear by not carrying individual suitcases, thus saving save space on helicopters and boats and minimizing the number of trips. “So less gas, less sweat, less energy,” observes Casey. “Just bettering the process is pretty much our greatest solution at this point.”
Because so much food is imported, the crew also committed to eating local fish and meat as much as possible, including seal and reindeer. “You’ve got a reindeer over here that a hunter will sell you that will pay for his livelihood for a long time,” continues Casey, “and then you’ve got a steroid-enriched pig that’s been flown all the way to the top of the Arctic Circle. Which one would you choose for your crew? It’s crazy to think about how far from our base camp that bacon came.”
Preserving the magnificent beauty of Greenland is vital to Casey, but introducing viewers to Greenland via the TV show is just as essential. “For many people, we are introducing Green-land to them. Every shot we take, every frame we shoot needs to speak to that.”
While it’s tempting to focus on the serious issue of global warming, Casey feels that just showing the changes in Green-land has an impact. “Literally, year to year the ice is retreating, but we don’t hit it on the nose. Just exhibit, let it be its own thing. Whoever’s watching the show, let them come to their own conclusions as to why. So if we can do that type of show at a place where great change is happening, we’re creating awareness and bringing eyeballs there.”
Jacobsen believes, “In Greenland, we have a lot of stories that should be told to the world. The Greenlandic people are always about adapting to whatever you’re up against. It’s such a beautiful place in all sorts of ways.”
Regardless of Ice Cold Gold’s future as a series, Casey’s passion for Greenland isn’t dependent on shifting trends in television. “It is my goal that we are ambassadors for Greenland to an American audience. I take that responsibility seriously and always will.”