Eleanor Conover: Aleutians West

Eleanor Conover: Aleutians West

About the Project

Aleutians West documented the daily work of researchers from the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center (DMC) on board a July 2014 National Science Foundation research cruise in Alaska.  The project aimed to communicate the importance of such scientific undertakings to an audience outside of the scientific community. Itl included an educational component for the use of scientists in presentation, in addition to a short documentary on landscape, ecology, and human experience in the wild, serving as witness to both the science and the experience of encountering a remote yet changing environment.

According to filmmaker Eleanor Conover, "With the Bearing Sea to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the South, the striking island region of the Western Aleutians has been deserted for decades. The paradox: our species maintains a presence in this space of apparent untouched wilderness through the persistent forces of climate change. This island region exists in some of the world's most acidic ocean conditions, a result of the ocean's increased absorption of excess CO2 in colder water. As a result, scientists are interested in understanding how this fundamental shift in ocean chemistry may affect the near-shore ecosystem there. In broad strokes, researchers want to know the following: what can ocean conditions and ecology in the Aleutians, hundreds of miles from civilization, teach us about the future of the biosphere?"

Bob Steneck, the Principal Investigator of the project, called this "almost Darwin-level research" because of the extreme logistics involved in conducting field study—including cold-weather diving—in such a remote environment. Back in Maine, the research team's results are forthcoming, yet the cruise affirmed the need for a close-up look at the flora and fauna in a potentially threatened ecosystem. 

Eleanor Conover connected with CMG by way of our Founding Director, David Conover (of no relation). David has worked extensively with Bob Steneck, of the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center, who introduced him to Eleanor. Also a painter interested in natural world systems in coastal and ocean regions, Eleanor's interests were well-suited to explore our impact in an area where little obvious trace of human presence exists.

Distribution for the film began in fall of 2016.

About the Grantee

A New England native, Eleanor studied History and Literature and Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. She began work in video at Compass Light Productions in Camden, Maine, and later co produced/directed her first independent film Heirloom in 2012, which was selected for the Camden International Film Festival shorts program. Eleanor currently teaches Art and English at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, MA, where she also maintains an active studio practice in painting and drawing. She has been an artist in residence at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, and at Cow House Studios in co. Wexford, Ireland. Her work in the arts, which investigates landscape in the context of human and natural histories, has brought her from Monhegan Island, Maine, to Alaska’s Attu Island. Eleanor's work is informed by a commitment and passion for conservation and the natural world, including islands and the sea. 

Project Updates and Milestones

Eleanor released Aleutians West in October 2016. The 15-minute short film that investigates the experience of scale and time in the Western Aleutian Islands. A lyric portrait of the remote, the film uses footage gathered during the 2014 research cruise as well as archival footage to conduct a visual inquiry into the past, present, and future state of the ecosystem. Anchored by conversations with scientists Bob Steneck and Jim Estes, the film also addresses broad questions about the effects of climate change and ocean acidification in this region.  Eleanor enlisted the work of Ben Cosgrove for the film’s score. A muti-instrumentalist and composer, Ben’s work is rooted in investigations of landscape, place, and ecology - which complimented the film fantastically.  Watch her 15 minute film below:

Eleanor Conover / Aleutians West