The Story of ALBATROSS

The Midway Project

The journey of ALBATROSS began in 2008 as a collaboration with my friend, activist/photographer Manuel Maqueda. Studying the newly-emerging issue of ocean plastic pollution, we learned of a stunning environmental tragedy taking place on a tiny atoll in the center of the vast North Pacific Ocean. We immediately began planning an expedition there, and on our first trip to Midway Island in September of 2009, we and our team photographed and filmed thousands of young albatrosses that lay dead on the ground, their stomachs filled with plastic. The experience was devastating, not only for what it meant for the suffering of the birds, but also for what it reflected back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption, and humanity's damaged relationship with the living world.

ourstory 1.jpg

On our second trip to Midway, the project's focus began to evolve, as we met the live albatrosses singing and dancing by the hundreds of thousands all over the island. Returning to Midway a total of eight times over four years, we experienced the birds' beauty, grace, and sentience more and more vividly with each trip. We learned to attune ourselves to their body language, so that we could film them up close without causing them anxiety. They allowed us to witness their most tender moments at astonishingly close range, as the mated pairs snuggled and built their nests together, their babies hatched from their eggs, and the fluffy chicks waited alone for their parents to return from their foraging trips to sea. The poetry of the albatross revealed itself layer by layer, as my team and I were gifted with intimate footage of every stage of their cycles of life, death, and birth.

Through this journey, I held to a principle of emergence that served as the creative foundation for the project. I wanted to experience the birds on their terms, imposing as few human judgments or preconceptions on them as possible. With this intention, I avoided scripting any aspect of the film in advance. The trips were approached as open-ended creative explorations, with no story or agenda in mind. Each day on the island, my team and I filmed and photographed whatever felt most interesting and beautiful, without judging our subjects' relevance. Usually we focused on the albatrosses, and we also turned to different subjects: fairy terns, the sea, the forest, a passing storm, or the island's omnipresent crumbling military infrastructure, never knowing whether that day's work would be used in the final film. I saw my directorial role as being the steward of an empty vessel, into which a yet-unknown story would arise spontaneously. This approach was challenging for everyone, including the project's financial supporters, who maintained intrepid patience with my non-linear and unpredictable process. Ultimately this philosophy allowed something to birth itself that could not have happened any other way.

ourstory 6.jpg

The Making of ALBATROSS

To shape our 400+ hours of footage into a film, I initially worked with three different editing/writing/production teams over several years. Each of these experiences brought valuable learning, but ultimately I needed to take full creative control of the story, editing, writing, narration, and music choices, as a solo artistic effort. So in June, 2015, I discarded all previous iterations of the film and started over from scratch with the raw footage. I spent more than two years in my Seattle studio learning to edit, working with the footage, experimenting with sound and music, and writing/recording the narration. My close friend and collaborator Jim Hurst, who served as the project's lead cinematographer and sound recordist, played a major role in the final editing/polishing stage, as well as joining me full-time for the several-month sound design and audio mix down.

From the beginning, I could feel my editing style departing from the traditions of documentary filmmaking. My wish was not only to tell the factual story of the albatrosses from an observational standpoint, but to convey the intensely vivid sensual, emotional, and spiritual experience of being with them on the island. My time with these magnificent beings was an internal experience as much as an external one, infused with often-overwhelming levels of beauty, lyricism, mystery, reverence, grief, and joy. And both the birds and the island resonated with richly poetic layers of symbolism, archetype, metaphor, and spirit. Midway felt to me like a kind of acupuncture point on the globe, emanating a transformative healing energy that if honored in its full depth and breadth, could reach far out into the field of human collective consciousness. I felt it was vital to integrate all of these elements as a holistic approach to the documentary art form.


ALBATROSS as a Public Artwork

As the time approached to release ALBATROSS into the world, I realized I could not treat it as a commercial product. To do so would tacitly endorse the same destructive machine of mass consumption that had filled our beloved birds with plastic in the first place. And the experience of Midway had come to me as a life-changing gift that I felt should be passed along in the purest form possible. I also believe that now is the time for radically creative action by all of us on behalf of life, in whatever big or small ways we each have the power to do. One thing I can do is to give my eight-year labor of love as a gift to the world, as a gesture of trust in doing the right thing for its own sake.

With these principles in mind, ALBATROSS is offered as a free public artwork. Starting on Earth Day 2018 (Apr 22), ALBATROSS will be made available for individuals everywhere to host a free screening for their families, friends, communities, organizations, churches, etc. Thousands of people are already signing up to join in this collective-consciousness raising experience. Our “hosted screenings” campaign will culminate on World Oceans Day 2018 (June 8), when ALBATROSS will be screened at the United Nations, as part of the official World Oceans Day Program hosted by Parley for the Oceans. On that day, ALBATROSS will be made available for free permanently.

our story1.jpg

Spreading the Message

The most important ways that ALBATROSS will spread is personally through word of mouth and hosted screenings, and via social media. Please consider hosting a screening, and share ALBATROSS with your networks. You can discuss and share all things ALBATROSS-related in our community forum, so make sure to check in there. And in the reciprocal spirit of the gift economy, I invite you to contribute financially to our project. All incoming funds will be applied to help carry ALBATROSS further out into the world, including to other countries and in multiple languages.

With my warm regards, and those of my team, we thank you for your engagement. This has been a long and challenging journey, made with the support of many generous, creative, and steadfast friends. Now we are thrilled to let ALBATROSS take off into the world as an offering of love, beauty, and hope for our times.  ~cj


cj team photo.jpg

Chris Jordan, Director, Writer, and Editor

Chris Jordan is an internationally acclaimed artist whose work explores contemporary mass culture from multiple perspectives, connecting the viewer viscerally to the enormity and power of humanity’s collective unconscious. Edge-walking the lines between beauty and horror, abstraction and representation, the near and the far, the visible and the invisible, his works challenge us to look both inward and outward at the complex landscapes of our collective choices. His work reaches an increasingly broad audience through his exhibitions, books, website, interviews on radio and television, and speaking engagements and school visits all over the world. More about CJ and his work:

manu team shot.jpg

Manuel Maqueda: Ocean Activist, Photographer, and Co-founder of the Midway Project

Manuel Maqueda is a multi-talented activist, artist, business consultant, teacher, and international Man of Mystery. He co-founded the Midway Project with Chris Jordan, joined the team on two of our trips to the island, and served as creative consultant and co-Producer for the project's duration. He also co-founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and founded a Spanish org called El Plastico Mata. Manuel is also an accomplished photographer, and on Trip 6 he captured the stunning photo featured in the film, of a parent albatross feeding shards of plastic to her chick. |

victoria in meadow2.jpg

Victoria Sloan Jordan: Producer, Co-writer and Creative Partner

Victoria Sloan Jordan contributed to ALBATROSS in many capacities. In addition to lending her creative talents to the writing and editing of the film, she handled the complex planning, scheduling, organizing, equipment rentals, travel arrangements, permitting process, and other logistics for the team’s trips to Midway. She joined the team on four of the trips as photography/cinematography assistant and served as the team’s de-facto poet laureate.

jimH team photo.jpg

Jim Hurst: Cinematographer, Sound Recordist, Co-Producer, and Creative Consultant

Jim Hurst is one of the world’s most skilled and creative outdoor cinematographers and location sound recordists. We were fortunate to have him serve as the project's lead cinematographer and sound recordist for Midway Trips 3-8. Jim also photographed all of the film’s time-lapse sequences, and played a major creative role in the editing process and in the sound design and audio mix down. Jim's rare combination of technical and artistic brilliance, easygoing spirit, and singleminded focus on the mission, made him a joy to work with every step of the way.

jan team photo2.jpg

Jan Vozenilek: Cinematographer/Co-Producer

Jan Vozenilek is a talented and hardworking cinematographer based in British Columbia. He joined the team on six of our trips.


JoeSchweers team photo.jpg

Joseph Schweers: Cinematographer Trips 2-7

Joe Schweers is a Vancouver-based cinematographer and video director with a deeply sensitive and artistic eye. We were fortunate to have him join the Midway team on six of our trips, and his gentle and attuned approach to the birds contributed enormously to the intimacy of the film.

Hinkle portrait-square.jpg

Ian Hinkle: Cinematographer/Director, Trip 3

Ian Hinkle is an experienced Canadian documentary film director and cinematographer who joined the team for Trip 3 in the spring of 2012, serving as the film’s Director for that trip. Since then Ian has remained a close friend and creative advisor to the project.


Chris Johnson/Carlos de Varona (AC): Cinematographers, Trip 8

Chris and Carlos are a crack team of Los Angeles-based cinematographers who joined the project on Trip 8 in the spring of 2013. On this trip they helped capture some of the more technically difficult and visually rewarding shots of the project.

MIDWAY-V-rockband 1600px.jpg

Executive Producers

Cyrill Gutsch and Lea Stepken, Parley for the Oceans
Geralyn Dreyfous
Sarah Johnson
Lekha Singh
Matthew London
Claudia Welss

The Music of ALBATROSS, in chronological order:

Nature’s Journey [flying theme]
Written and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of Killer Tracks

Mystical Forest [forest scene]; Break In [island intro scene]; Formentera Waves [Pacific Ocean scene]; Dark Piano [curiosity scene]
Written and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of earthMusic

Confidencias [mating dance]
Composed by Ernesto Nazareth
Performed by Helena Azevedo
Courtesy of Helena Azevedo

Tracery [waiting through the night scene]
Written by Michael Brook
Performed by Nusrat Fatah Ali Kahn and Michael Brook
Courtesy of Real World Records

Song For Susan Elizabeth [hatching scene]
Composed and performed by Chris Jordan

The End of Suffering [failed eggs/failed hatchings]
Phap Miem, vocalist
Composed, Produced, and Performed by Gary Malkin
Produced by Michael Stillwater; Courtesy of Gary Malkin

Surreal Dream [photos of plastic-filled chicks]
Composed and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of earthMusic

Graceful Skies [fluffy chicks waiting in the field]
Composed and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of FirstCom Music

Sea Shimmers [dying chicks and first necropsy]
Composed and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of Killer Tracks

Dark Night [flower mandala ceremony]
Composed and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of earthMusic

Long Ago Child/Fallen Star [fledglings in forest and meadow]
Composed and performed by Pat Metheny
Courtesy of ECM Records

Heart Warriors [fledglings training in thunderstorm]
Composed and performed by Byron Metcalf
Courtesy of Byron Metcalf

Are You Going With Me [fledgling takeoffs]
Composed by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays
Performed by Pat Metheny
Courtesy of Nonesuch Records, by arr with Warner Music Group

A Love Song For Humanity [dying scene]
Composed and performed by Jami Sieber
Courtesy of Jami Sieber

Lento e largo, Symphony No.3 [second necropsy scene]
Composed by Henryk Gorecki
Performed by Joanna Koslowska, Kazimierz Kord, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Courtesy of Decca Music Group Ltd / Universal Music Enterprises

Snowdrops [final pan across field of birds]
Composed and performed by Al Lethbridge
Courtesy of earthMusic

Music rights: Brooke Wentz

Gratitude to the Midway Project’s individual donors

Janet Alderton
Shelley Alger
Mimi and Peter Buckley
Michael R. Burbank
Nancy Burnett
Samantha Campbell
Timothy Childs
Chris Dresser
Christy Foley
Sally Goodwin
Cyrill Gutsch and Lea Stepken
John Kew
Matthew London and Sylvia Xiaorui Wen
Nicholas Negroponte
John Nogawski and Emily Richards
David Oakley
Jim Roth
Tom Rousch
Richard Russell
Shari Sant Plumber
Maraa Saval
Angelika Seed
Joseph and Janet Shein
Andrew Stern, M.D.
Jamey Stillings
Anthony Tjan
Holly Thomas
Ian and Victoria Watson
Claudia Welss

Thank you to these organizations for their generous support and collaboration

Marcus Eriksen, Anna Cummins, and the 5Gyres Institute
The Campbell Foundation
Cancun Farming and Cooking
Charlottesville Area Community Foundation
Code Blue Charitable Foundation, Inc.
The Compton Family Foundation
The Community Foundation
Culture & Animals Foundation
Peter Buckley and the David Brower Center
The Fred Foundation
The Hassenfeld Family Foundation
Karen MacDonald and Koerner Camera Systems, Seattle
NextNow Collaboratory
Numi Organic Tea
Mountain Commitment Grant Program
Parley for the Oceans
Pax Natural Foundation
Maria Westerbos and the Plastic Soup Foundation
Henrik Beha Pedersen and Plastic Change International
Dianna Cohen and the Plastic Pollution Coalition
The Russell Family Foundation
Santa Fe Community Foundation
Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund
Sweet Bar Bakery, Berkeley
The Smiling Dog Foundation
Stewart Coleman and Surfriders International
The Watson Family Foundation
Whipplehill Communications
Aqua Hotels, Honolulu, Hawai’i

Much gratitude to the Midway Project’s Kickstarter supporters

Lisa Kaas Boyle
Jackson Browne and Dianna Cohen
Maura Fallon
Markus Faschina
Aaron Griffiths
Farrah Haddad
Susie Hewson and Natracare LLC
Pernille Knudtzon
Alex and Brad Krawczyk
Jay C Leon
Michael Ludlam
Lynnaea Lumbard
Nancy MacLeod
Natalia Martinez
Deepa Narayan
Nicholas Negroponte
Roberta Olenick
Emily Scott Pottruck
James Redford
Richard Russell
Nicole Rustad
Emelia Scaglione
Darian Shapiro
Janice and Aaron Springer
Andrew Stern
Holly Thomas
Anthony Tjan
Baerbel Winkler

Special thanks to our close friends and supporters

Manuel Maqueda
Kumu Raylene Kawaiae'a (in loving memory)
Geralyn Dreyfous
Terry Tempest Williams
Joanna Macy
Carl Safina
David Holbrooke
Cyrill Gutsch
Al Lethbridge
Sabine Emiliani
Matthew London and Sylvia Xiaorui Wen
Lauren Bender and Adrian Hyde
Hob Osterlund
Andrew Stern
Henrik Beha Pedersen
Anne Symens-Bucher
Regan Rosburg
Julie Atherton
Raquel Santiago Boluda
Sally Goodwin
Kurt Hoelting
Jennifer Adams
Paul di Furia
Peter Ettel
Rick Ingrasci and Peggy Taylor
Lynnaea Lumbard and Rick Paine
Chris and Mary Holder
Karen Guglielmone
Helena Azevedo
Susan Elizabeth and Rocky Jordan, in loving memory
Catherine Jordan
Emerson Jordan

Many thanks to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA, and the State of Hawaii, loving and capable stewards of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge / Papahahaumokuakea Marine National Monument:

Tracy Refuge Ammerman
Ann Bell
Jasan Beatty
Ty Benally
Matt Brown
Vernon “Ray” Born
Bonnie Campbell
John Klavitter
Leona Laniawe
Pete Leary
John Miller
Sue Schulmeister
Greg Schubert
Bret Wolfe

And thanks to Darlene Olsen-Holst, the permitting staff, and the island staff at Chugach Alaska Corporation.