Little Diomede, Alaska, population 118 Iñupiat
Few have ever heard of this remote Alaska village. Fewer still have set foot there. It is the poster child of remote. The 2.8 square miles of Little Diomede Island is the furthest west you can travel in the United States before crossing the international dateline into tomorrow. On the other side of the dateline, about 2.4 miles to be exact, is Big Diomede Island, it's Russian territory. Little Diomede Island is the one spot in Alaska where you can truthfully say,
“I really can see Russia from my house.”
In 2012, I journeyed to Little Diomede with a documentary film crew from Mexico City. The project was part of a multi-year production interviewing the Iñupiat who have lived in this region over 5,000 years. We traveled 135 miles east of Nome via helicopter to get there. Travel methods are not typical, but this place is far from typical.
The people of Little Diomede live a subsistence lifestyle, hunting and fishing from the Bering Sea, harvesting birds, collecting eggs each summer and gathering wild greens on the rocky slopes in late summer and early fall. Perched on post foundations, Little Diomede’s homes have no running water and no TV.
What launched the project? In 2009, world-renowned photographer Lourdes Grobet contacted Alaska Film Services to take a small documentary film crew to Wales and Little Diomede, Alaska. The results of that trip became an exhibit that opened at the Museum of Man in Paris and continued on to Mexico City.
Lourdes reached out again in 2012 to make arrangements for a return trip in early winter. Together with Ramiero Ruiz, a producer with Catatonia Productions, in Mexico City, the planning began. We spent two months preparing realistic budgets based on the countless transportation scenarios for crossing the Bering Sea. We wrote for permissions from the villages prior to our arrival; We Skyped with our clients in Mexico about gear, food and housing needs, weather reports, flight reservations; and the expedition started to take shape.
Our goal: to travel completely self-sufficiently so as not to burden a remote village, with already limited resources, any further.
The result? The village of Little Diomede welcomed us. And In a place with no television, children played outside day and night. They tagged along with us, our curious and willing crew in front and behind the camera.
Left to right: Andrés Eichelmann; editor, Stacy Bushaw-Boles; production coordinator, Ramiro Ruiz; producer, Juan Cristobal Perez Grobet; sound, Lourdes Grobet; director, Deborah Schildt; Alaskan producer, Xavier Grobet; director of photography – on the ice pack near Wales, Alaska.
We learned a lot. We learned that dried seal and pickled jalapeños make an excellent pairing. We found that music, dance and laughter know no language barrier. We came back with friendships, fond memories and footage to hone to the next phase of the project.