Nomadic Tents Film Project

$9,875 of $9,500 goal

Goal Reached!
-------Please check out 
to see what this campaign has turned into. Thanks for your support!------

My name is Kevin Nielsen and I'm a barista in Washington State. In my spare time I study and teach traditional living skills. I'm making a Gofundme today because I've been invited to go on a trip to visit the Nenets reindeer herders on the Yamal peninsula on the far north edge of Siberia.  I want to go there to learn more about the traditional reindeer-skin tents of the reindeer herders that live there, make a short film about their tents , and put together a short book as well, but I need your help! Keep reading...

(The Yamal Peninsula is shown in red)

About The Nenets People:
       The Nenets are a culture of nomadic reindeer herders who live in the Yamal peninsula area of northern siberia. They traditionally live in tents made of reindeer skin,  and travel on sleds pulled behind reindeer.  The tent is known as a chum (pronounced "choom").
       Reindeer is one of their main foods, and much of their clothing is made of reindeer skin. They migrate to the north in the spring and return to the south in the fall, to ensure access to good pasture for their herds.

Historic woodcut (because all the modern photos I can find are copyrighted!)

The Idea:
       I would like to learn and document as much information as possible about the chum tent. How it's made, how the reindeer skins are processed, what's used to sew it, what stitches are used, how the pattern is created, what wood is used, how the wood is prepared, how it's set up, how it's packed for travel, etc. I will make this into a short documentary film to be shared online for anyone interested in learning more about these amazing structures. I will also make a pamphlet with the compiled info and still photos and make it available online.
         I will also try to learn about and photograph other traditional skills and crafts as much as is possible.

Background and Qualifications:
        I've been fascinated by traditional nomadic people for most of my life. I've also been semi-nomadic for much of my life, traveling and working seasonal farm and orchard jobs across the west. I've spent years living in various traditional tents including a year in a tipi in Arizona, a year in a canvas wall tent in California, and two years in a yurt that I made from scratch, using raw maple poles I cut in the forest. I've also had the privilege of visiting a bedouin tent in the desert in Syria.
I believe that puts me in a good position to explore the reindeer skin "chum" tent of the Nenets, as i already have a solid understanding of nomadic tents and tent life.  

(This photo is the yurt I built)

Additionally I've been studying and practicing  traditional, organic leather tanning for over 10 years (and teaching classes about leather tanning for over 5 years) which will also help me to understand as much as possible about the preparation of the reindeer skins used to make the chum tent. 

(another picture of my yurt)

During the past year I've been employed part time as an assistant in a small studio, filming, archiving and editing digital video and audio footage. This has given me the skillset required to feel capable of filming and producing a short documentary video.

The Team:
      My friend who invited me is a photo-journalist from Croatia who has published previous trips of ours in National Geographic Croatia, Meridjani, and other magazines and newspapers, as well as several books. His last book got a written endorsement from the president of his country!  He is a fantastic photographer with a ton of experience traveling in remote areas.  (Check out his website, or his facebook

 In 2008 he secured a sponsorship that paid for he and I to spend 3 months visiting the most remote areas of West Papua (New Guinea), so I know that we travel well together and are prepared to meet the challenges we will inevitably face getting there and doing the work we set out to do. 

Davor has also been adding video to his repertoire of photography skills, and has the added advantage of already possessing top quality camera equipment.  

Why are these particular tents important to understand?
        Skin tents were traditionally used in many parts of the world, and have become less and less common as industrial materials are made available.  The production and use of them is skilled knowledge which is becoming scarce.

       Additionally,  nomadic cultures have become more and more threatened in the face of ever increasing pressures to settle down. That means less people are making, living in, and traveling with traditional tents. 

Why Now?
         With the changing climate in the arctic, the ice has been thawing earlier in the spring and freezing later in the fall, making migration more difficult for the Nennets people. Migration across rivers and through swampland is only possible when the land is frozen, and the migrations are timed accordingly.
         As it becomes more difficult to travel to good pasture, the nomadic lifeway itself will be seriously challenged and may become a thing of the past as it has in much of the world. 

Shouldn't you leave this to an Anthropologist or something?
       "I've watched a lot of documentaries (including one on the people of this region) and read a lot of ethnographic material culture, and it is extremely frustrating that subjects such as this are only covered as human interest and not to document the actual processes or details. Most authors/researchers/film makers, don't know what they are looking at, what to look for, or even what questions to ask. Kevin is in a good position to actually pull this off, because he has a background in tanning and in tent living as well as basic technology and subsistence life-ways in general. "  -Steven Edholm,  Author of BUCKSKIN: The Ancient Art of Braintanning

So let's do this!
        Together as a team Davor and I have the equipment, skills, and desire to put together something awesome. But I need your help! As it turns out, getting to a village in the middle of siberia is expensive! Davor has booked a guide from March 20th to April 10th, but the cost of the actual travel for me to go is projected to be over $9,500.  This includes approximately $8000 for the guided portion of the journey roundtrip from Moscow, approximately $1000 for travel from the US to Moscow, food and lodging from my home to Moscow, as well as additional expenses that are extra and I will probably end up covering myself.  I can't fit the travel costs into my budget, so my participation on this trip, and the subsequent film will not happen unless this campaign succeeds.  

      I know that's really soon, but I put off asking for help until the last minute. I had resigned myself to not going because of the high cost, but as the deadline grew closer I realized that this was a really important opportunity and I need to do what I can to make it happen.  By creating this crowdfunder I'm pushing it to the next level, to see if there's support for it from others. 

        I've set up the campaign so that if it does not raise $9500 by the time I need to apply for visas and confirm with the guide (January 21st!) I will forfeit all the pledges and take no money- you keep your money. Its all or nothing.  Any money donated beyond what I need for travel would be used to purchase better video and audio equipment.  

So that's it then, if I don't get $9500 by January 21st, you get your money back, and the project doesnt happen.

Please share on facebook, and e-mail to any friends who might be interested. Thanks for reading, and thanks for considering my project!

"This looks to be a great project, worthy of supporting. I would encourage everyone to take a look at what Kevin is trying to do here. It is a fascinating undertaking."
-Mike Loades, Author and Director of several documentary films shown on National Geographic channel and History channel.    ( )
+ Read More
Hey Friends!
I have a couple quick updates for the Nomadic Tents Film Project.
Today I got my new issue of National Geographic in the mail and was excited to see an article titled "Life On The Edge", about the challenges that Nenets reindeer herders are facing from climate change and gas development . These issues are a big motivator for my project, and I was glad to see them getting attention from a major publication.
This summer the first of the fleet of Icebreaker/Tankers which will move Liquid Natural Gas from Yamal to China made its journey through the Arctic sea along the Northern Sea Route. The development of this fleet will expedite gas shipments from Yamal, and make gas development there more lucrative.
As far as the project goes, I've been continuing to receive professional footage from a collaborating cinematographer in the Yamal peninsula, which is helping fill in the story of what the nomadic tent life is like there through the warmer seasons. I was only able to visit and film in the frozen springtime.
The summer tents are often canvas, but in the past they were covered with birch bark. Finding anyone who still makes birch bark covered tents is very difficult in Yamal, and I have heard that there may not be anyone left doing it there. I would be interested to hear about people who still have an unbroken birch bark-covered home tradition anywhere in the world, if anyone knows of one.
Don't forget to check out!
Thank you!
+ Read More
Good news! I'm excited to announce two things. One, the website is up! Drop by and watch the first couple short videos, browse some photos, and read an explanation of the tents and the project. Check it out on Instagram and Facebook too!
Secondly, the first round of the donor gifts is ready! I sent out an email to everyone who donated $60 or more to let them know how to get their free photo. I didn't hear back from everyone, so please let me know if you didn't get it.
Additionally, I got some more beautiful tundra footage sent to me today by a friend. I'll let you know as the video gets closer to being done. Thanks again everyone!
+ Read More
Hey folks!
I just wanted to share my excitement at finally getting a bunch of my photos from the project printed as 8x12s. People who donated $60 or more will be able to choose a photo to receive as a gift, out of a selection that I'll be sharing as soon as its ready. I still haven't worked out all the details of the printing/shipping, so its not ready yet, but I'm hoping it won't be long.
In addition to reviewing and editing photos, I've also been editing video, adding subtitles to Nenets and Russian language interviews, and I've almost got the website ready to publish.
Thanks for your support!
+ Read More
I'm long overdue for a campaign update, so here it is:
Its been a very busy summer at work, and I didn't have nearly as much free time as I was hoping, so I haven't really gotten as much done on the film as I had hoped. As a result, I've left my job as a barista to give myself time to put together this film, and get the other aspects of the Nomadic Tents Film Project going (Website, social media stuff, etc) this fall and winter. I'm excited to share the beautiful footage I've got, and help tell this story.
Additionally, my friend Igor from Yamal has donated additional footage of people preparing skins for tent making, and is working on getting local music together for the soundtrack, so that's awesome, and greatly appreciated!
As you may have heard in the news, this summer there was an anthrax outbreak on the Yamal peninsula this summer, which killed a child. sickened 100 people and also killed 2300 reindeer. (This was about 100 miles/ 160 Km north of where I was filming). As a result of this and other factors, the government is proposing a cull of up to 250,000 more reindeer, as well as closing the areas which were exposed to the disease. What affect this will have on nomadic reindeer herding is yet to be seen.
Anyway, thank you for your interest and continued support! I'll keep you updated as things progress!
Kevin Nielsen

+ Read More
Read a Previous Update
Linda Harney
39 months ago

Welcome back, Kevin! What an amazing journey you've had! We've enjoyed your updates & feel honored to have been able to experience it vicariously. Now your next phase begins: sorting thru all your videos :-) Keep us posted, please!

+ Read More

$9,875 of $9,500 goal

Goal Reached!
Created January 14, 2016
Your share could be bringing in donations. Sign in to track your impact.
We will never post without your permission.
In the future, we'll let you know if your sharing brings in any donations.
We weren't able to connect your Facebook account. Please try again later.
Sarah Fox
22 months ago
Christine Wilcox
39 months ago
Crystal Bacon
39 months ago
Beverley Jensen
40 months ago
Rosalee de la Forêt
41 months ago

Sounds like an awesome experience. I look forward to hearing about it!

Andrew Dahl-Bredine
41 months ago

wonderful project, Kevin. Thanks for having the oomph to make it happen. I sure appreciate it.

Johnny DeLacy
41 months ago

You're so great Kevin, and constantly doing inspiring things. I hope you have a great trip and come home with excellent stories!

Kristara Waldron
42 months ago
Paige Heron
42 months ago

Kevin, this sounds awesome!

Eric Nielsen
42 months ago

Get it!

Linda Harney
39 months ago

Welcome back, Kevin! What an amazing journey you've had! We've enjoyed your updates & feel honored to have been able to experience it vicariously. Now your next phase begins: sorting thru all your videos :-) Keep us posted, please!

+ Read More
Use My Email Address
By continuing, you agree with the GoFundMe
terms and privacy policy
There's an issue with this Campaign Organizer's account. Our team has contacted them with the solution! Please ask them to sign in to GoFundMe and check their account. Return to Campaign

Are you ready for the next step?
Even a $5 donation can help!
Donate Now Not now
Connect on Facebook to keep track of how many donations your share brings.
We will never post on Facebook without your permission.