Two award-winning filmmakers are coming to the Hebrides International Film Festival in person this year to give masterclasses on their craft.

Extreme wildlife filmmaker and photographer Asgeir Helgestad and stop-motion animation director, set designer and model maker Catherine Prowse will both be giving masterclasses in the An Lanntair Pocket Cinema – Asgeir on Friday at 5.30pm and Catherine on Saturday at 2.30pm.

The film festival – taking place in venues across the Outer Hebrides from Thursday to Saturday (September 12 to 14) – is also screening films by Asgeir, from Norway, and London-based Catherine, so festival-goers will be able to enjoy their work as well as hearing about how they make it.

The films are Asgeir’s Queen Without Land, which follows the fortunes of a polar bear mother in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, and Catherine’s Laymun, a short animation based in a war-torn Middle Eastern city where a woman fights the destruction and desolation around her by planting lemon trees.

Laymun has won three Royal Television Society awards, among others, and been screened at festivals around the world. In her masterclass, Catherine will be discussing her work and career, including how she creates the animations, followed by a question and answer session.

Multi-award-winning film Queen Without Land follows the story of beautiful polar bear Frost in Svalbard, the land of absolute darkness in winter and midnight sun in summer, where the disappearing sea ice has pushed life to the brink. As Frost is forced further inland, Asgeir is determined to find her and document all that is being lost, but his task is difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Asgeir has been working as a wildlife filmmaker and photographer since 1991 and been influenced by the vast landscapes, beautiful light and majestic animals of Norway, where he grew up.

He shoots in Ultra High Definition (8K), using the RED Epic W camera system, and his still photography and films have won him several international awards including prizes at the Wildscreen Film Festival and Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Queen without Land has won several awards including Best Environmental Film at the WFF in 2018.

Asgeir’s masterclass will focus on camera work in extreme location and the skills needed to capture the natural environment and wildlife. He will also be bringing his message of ‘wildlife filmmaking as climate activism' to the film festival. And he too will do a question and answer session.

Asgeir said: “I have never been to the Hebrides before and I am so excited to come and experience the wonderful nature there.

“I suppose it can be cold and windy now, but possibly not comparable to Svalbard. On Svalbard temperature rarely gets under -35 to -40C, but in combination with wind that can feel quite insane, especially if flying a drone or using touch-screens which is difficult with gloves. I will talk about filming in the cold and about how it is to work with polar bears who might find you too interesting. “Nevertheless, temperatures are rarely that cold anymore on Svalbard, as the average temperature has risen 5.6C and it even rains during the winter. This affects the whole ecosystem and even creates problems for reindeer that can't access their food when it’s covered with ice. These islands used to be surrounded by ice during the winter, but now it is more often surrounded by open water.”

The situation has moved beyond urgent, according to Asgeir.

“I am afraid it is too late to save the Arctic ecosystem as we know it. Our politicians will take action some time in the future, but the future is already here, and especially on Svalbard. Therefore, I would also like to discuss wildlife filmmaking as climate activism and what it means to be working in and for nature. I think it is important to have enough time for Q&A with the audience, as such issues need discussion and dialogue.”

Muriel Ann Macleod, Creative Director and Programmer of HIFF, is delighted to be providing the filmmaking masterclasses this year, thanks to funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

She said: “It’s skills development so we’ve brought in people who have unusually high-quality skills and we’re opening it up to filmmakers and students in the Hebrides. We have a collective of people who are making film, young and old, and this is about encouraging everybody in the community to think about making more film and these filmmakers are inspiring people.”

Another aspect of bringing filmmakers into the islands is that “very often they don’t know about the place and what it looks like”, so they might end up wanting to make film here.

Muriel Ann said the filmmaking masterclasses were “not an easy thing to put together” because, as well as looking for people “who had something special”, they also had to have a recent film out, which the film festival could book, and they had to be available themselves.

“We are really grateful to both of them for coming here,” she said, “because it’s a chunk out of both their lives to do it, especially to come to the island.”

She said Asgeir was “very interesting because he goes out and does everything himself”, in extreme environments with his high-level equipment. “He’s putting his life at risk to do it and in the film you see him almost being eaten by a polar bear.”

Catherine, meanwhile, is notable for being “a young talented individual, working in London and directing animation and making animation”. She is relatively new out of college but has won awards for her model making and paper animation.

“This is inspiring because this is what a young person has managed to do in a short period,” said Muriel Ann.

For more information, including details of all the screenings, visit: Printed programmes are also widely available.

Tickets for the rural venues can be bought through the website by following the links to the Eventbrite marketplace but tickets for the An Lanntair films must be bought through the art centre’s own website at:

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