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Into the Arctic Wild: CALS Grad Films Polar Bear Documentary

By Isabel Sterne ’10

Arthur and Jennifer Smith

Arthur and Jennifer Smith filmed Ice Bears of the Beaufort in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

For five years, Arthur C. Smith III ’75 captured footage of Alaskan polar bears for his documentary Ice Bears of the Beaufort. Smith and his wife and fellow filmmaker, Jennifer, created the non-narrated film to upend conventional thinking about polar bears and to shed light on the threat of oil and gas development by state and federal governments to the bears’ Arctic habitat.

Smith moved to the 300-person Eskimo village of Kaktovik on the Beaufort Sea—in the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—in 2004 and trained his camera on its large polar bear community. The rare, aweinspiring clips led one reviewer to write that the documentary “picks up where The March of the Penguins left off.”

“We want to show people that the Arctic is not just a blank sheet of paper,” says Smith, an Elmira, N.Y., native who, with his wife, founded PolarArt Productions, a media company specializing in natural history films.

In November 2009, the Smiths screened Ice Bears of the Beaufort to a packed house at the Cornell Cinema. The documentary has also been shown at film festivals from Los Angeles to Anchorage to Ireland.

At the Cornell screening, Art Smith stressed the importance of raising awareness about the eastern Beaufort seacoast, home to one of the highest concentrations of polar bear denning and birthing habitat in Alaska. Warning that drilling would be a “death sentence” for polar bears, Smith added: “This place is a polar bear maternity ward. We hope our film will remind people what is at stake.”

Smith discovered his passion for the natural world as a boy while accompanying his father on hunting trips in the Adirondacks, where he developed a talent for photography and filmmaking.

After graduating as a CALS applied economics and management major, Smith eventually became a photographer for Grant Heilman Photography, a lifelong dream. In 1993, an assignment took him to the ANWR, where, Smith says, “The hook was set . . . I knew I would have to live there someday.”

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