Jason Roberts Productions AS (JRP) has filed a complaint about the denial with the Norwegian Environment Agency (NEA). The company asserts the governor's decision goes against both political signals that international film productions are welcome in Norway and regulations for Svalbard's environment generally in use.
Andrée move drama
The application is linked to the filming of Andréeneset for a planned feature drama produced by Thelma/Louise TV Productions in collaboration with Sveriges Television. The plan is to create a modern retelling of the tragic balloon journey by Swedish engineer Salomon August Andrée in 1897.
Historian Bea Uusmas is the main character and she tries to solve puzzles related to reasons the expedition members died.
Not 'sufficient reason'
The governor's office maintains its rejection in a letter to the NEA. Guri Tveito, head of the Department for Environment Protection for Svalbard's governor, refers to numerous factors she claims support refusal of permission to land. Among the factors is the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act states there should be "sufficient reason" for exemptions.
"Although the project itself may be special as such, we cannot see that it qualifies as a 'sufficient reason' in law," she states in the letter.
As to whether a two-hour helicopter ride to Kvitøya would be a better environmental option than using a boat, which JRP has the full opportunity to do, the governor's office declines to comment.
"It is our view that the question of whether there is a legal basis for granting an exemption (for helicopter landings) is the central topic of discussion," Tveito writes in the letter.
Not 'rare enough'
Under the criteria of "sufficient reason" is an exemption must be about a need that occurs relatively rarely and that need is weighty. The governor's office asserts neither of these criteria are met. Regarding rarity, Tveito notes:
"The governor knows of two film shoots in Svalbard this spring … and on Kvitøya there was recording for a film adaptation of the Andrée balloon expedition in late 2011."
"Such film recording in Svalbard seems in our opinion to be nothing/something more than what a normal linguistic understanding of the criterion 'rare' would entail."
JRP points out in the letter of complaint it received permission to land on Kvitøya in 2007 during the filming of the BBC nature documentary series "Frozen Planet" and legislation has not changed since. The burden, therefore, is on the governor's office to justify the change. In response, the governor's letter states bluntly the practice de facto is about to change.
"The governor has in some cases been granted permission for helicopter landings in connection with the recording of nature documentaries with a large audience," Tveito notes. "For the others, the individual experiences linked to these previously led us to consider the need to tighten the practice."
'A biased matter of principle'
Jason Roberts believes almost everything is wrong with the governor's decision about his case.
Roberts declined to discuss the dispute, referring inquiries to documents in the case.
The complaint by his company, Jason Roberts Productions AS, claims helicopter landings to film the footage will not cause any environmental damage. The time frame is within a period of little or no wildlife in the area.
It is also asserts using a helicopter is the best way environmentally to do this, as the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, paragraph 84, requires. It takes two hours of flight time.
JRP can freely use a boat for the project, but this is not the "best environmental option," Roberts states.
"If a ship/boat is to be used, this will involve a minimum of 144 hours of engine time, including much icebreaking along the way, to reach the same areas. Consequently, helicopter transport is in accordance with the purpose of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, paragraph 84."
Sweep before its own door
Much like Svalbard Tourism, JRP's letter refers to a stated desire by authorities to facilitate film and television production in Norway.
In addition, it points to a paradox where the governor's office indirectly fails to sweep before its own door.
"It is totally unacceptable that when the governor is increasing its use of helicopters to almost astronomical proportions, they simultaneously deny landing permission for educational documentation."
Svalbard Tourism believes there is a need for this documentary and regrets the governor is putting a spoke in the wheels for it.
Director of Tourism Ronny Brunvoll asserts the purpose of the two helicopter landings is justification to the highest degree for granting an exemption.
Few expeditions are more legendary than the balloon journey by Salomon August Andrée and many questions remain unanswered. As the tourism director, Brunvoll sees it as his task to promote greater knowledge and understanding of the natural and human stories of Svalbard.
"A modern retelling of engineer Andrée's balloon expedition will therefore be welcome from a communications point of view of tourism," Brunvoll states in a letter supporting the film.
Can draw tourists
Brunvoll points to the Ministry of Culture's incentive program for film and television productions in Norway, which has received broad political support. It is known film and television exposure may contribute to the development of tourism, and a modern dramatization of Andrée's tragedy can, according to Brunvoll, help attract more desired foreign visitors to Svalbard."
The tourism director believes there is "strong political support at the highest level" to allow film and television productions in Norway. But:
"The paradox in this case is that we have a production that actually wants to film in Norway, specifically on Kvitøya, but which consequently is not being given the opportunity to do so by the governor. We therefore question whether the decision is made on a faulty foundation," Brunvoll notes.
Svalbard Museum is also expressing its support for a modern retelling of Andrée's balloon flight.