What is Expedition Film Making?

In our final week of making New Land (a film about an Arctic expedition) we were in the edit suite in Cape Town putting the finishing touches to the film. This included giving everyone a title when you met them for the first time. My title was going to be Expedition Filmmaker which we then had to translate into Norwegian.

We had a good laugh when we discovered that no such word exists in Norwegian. To avoid confusion we decided to just stick with filmmaker.

This raised an important question though. Is there such a thing as an expedition filmmaker? Actuality documentary can be broken down into many sub sections. You get social filmmakers; natural history filmmakers etc. But I had never stopped to think if expeditions required their own subsection? I just assumed that it was a natural category which must be in use and recognizable.

It is a rather fringe activity and perhaps should just fall under film making in general? Perhaps an overarching category of adventure filmmaking? Its an interesting question. However I don’t think it is a trivial one as in order for a genre to develop and mature it needs fall into a category in which conversations about craft, story telling and aesthetic can be discussed.

Expedition films are sometimes not as well conceived as they could be and rely on hard to get footage of extreme environments or activities, without much thought to character development, story arc etc. Like many people I am drawn to stories of daring and survival and look forward to watching them on TV and at festivals. However I am very often left feeling underwhelmed and frustrated that they could have done a better job of telling the story.

This is a good example of what I am talking about. Azazel is a film that screened at the Banff Mountain FIlm Festival in 2010. It is not very well made. The shooting is amateur and the editing too, but it is such a great story. No fancy gopro shots, or drones flying aerials, just good story telling. I love this film. It makes me feel like I am on the expedition with them. It also underlies the one thing I tell anyone who asks me for tips on filming an expedition. It all boils down to one thing. Have your camera handy at all times and film when the going gets tough.

I’ll be speaking about expedition film making tips and tricks learned through ten years of working in harsh environments on the 14 February in Finse, Norway as part of the Expedition Finse weekend event.


Finse is a high mountain plateau in a region called Hardangervidda. Polar nerds will know that it is famous as being the place that polar greats like Nansen, Amundsen and Scott trained for their polar journeys. The hotel there has incredible historical photographs on its walls and practically oozes a polar tradition unrivaled anywhere else.

The talk will be a combination of a practical and philosophical approach to filming in harsh environments. How to tell a compelling story and importantly how to make new technologies work for you and not the other way around.

About kyleodonoghue

Environmental and Adventure Filmmaker
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