Chamisso’s Shadow: A Journey to the Bering Sea in Three Chapters. Chapter 2, Part 1: Chukotka
The second stage of Ulrike Ottinger’s voyage to the far north takes her to Chukotka, where Asia faces America across the narrow Bering Strait. Here, the indigenous cultures have much in common with those of Alaska, but with a different colonial overlay: in a port where Vitus Bering stopped on his expedition to discover the farthest reaches of Peter the Great’s empire, a statue of Lenin still presides over decaying Soviet-era buildings, relics of another obsolete nation. Interleaving centuries of past explorers’ accounts and vintage images with her own commentary and footage, Ottinger observes what has been altered and what has remained: a natural environment of stark beauty and a society of sea hunters still dependent on their catch of fish, seals, and whales. Extended sequences of seal butchering and the remains of whales decomposing on a beach bring a visceral reality and complexity to Ottinger’s observations of the interface between landscape, wildlife, and culture.