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Documentary Arts

Kulsoom Rizavi ’25 & Jacob Whatley ’25: A Funeral For Ice

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2023

"A Funeral For Ice" aims to shed light on the concept of ecological grief by narrating the story of the first glacier in the world to be declared "dead."

A Behind the Scenes shot of filming on Langjökull

About the Project

I was fortunate to receive funding through the Benenson Awards in the Arts for my documentary project titled “A Funeral For Ice.” The project aimed to shed light on the concept of ecological grief by narrating the story of the first glacier in the world to be declared “dead” and have a funeral held for it- the Okjökull Glacier in Iceland. This project allowed me to explore the profound emotional and environmental impact of climate change on our planet, emphasizing the need for collective action.

To bring this project to fruition, I connected with Dr. Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer of Rice University, who had initially conceptualized the idea of holding funerals for glaciers as a way to raise awareness about the climate crisis. Through their guidance, we connected with various stakeholders on the ground even before arriving in Iceland.

The production phase of “A Funeral For Ice” spanned 10 days in Iceland, a country deeply affected by glacial melting and climate change. My Director of Photography, Jacob C. Whatley, and I embarked on a journey that took us to three different regions of Iceland – South Iceland, Western Iceland and Reykjavík. This allowed us to capture a comprehensive view of the landscape, the people, and the glacier’s history and significance.

The heart of the documentary lay in the interviews we conducted. We conducted nearly 20 interviews engaging with a diverse array of individuals who shared their unique perspectives on the climate crisis and the idea of ecological grief. This included environmental activists, climate scientists and community members and farmers who had borne witness to the ecological changes in Iceland in their lifetimes. Our interviews also extended to political figures, as we had the opportunity to speak with a presidential candidate. This broad spectrum of perspectives and voices lent depth and diversity to the documentary’s narrative.

Throughout the 10-day filming process, we encountered the stark realities of glacial retreat and climate change firsthand. We hiked 4 different glaciers- Langjökull, Vatnajökull, Snæfellsjökull and what was remaining of Okjökull. The visual and emotional impact of witnessing the melting glacier and hearing stories from local residents left an indelible impact on us. More than anything, the project allowed us to grow as artists and made us much more impassionate about utilizing documentaries and other artistic mediums to advocate for social change.

Read more on the project here:
https://today.duke.edu/2023/08/duke-programs-help-film-students-flourish
https://today.duke.edu/2023/08/documenting-death-glacier-and-communitys-pain