Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Variance Films, NR)

film antarctica-on-iceYou could visit Antarctica as a tourist, but your experience would be quite different from that portrayed in this film.




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It’s something of a cliché that a film can take you to places you will probably never get to in reality, but that’s literally true of Anthony Powell’s Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Of course, given enough disposable income, you could visit Antarctica as a tourist, but your experience would be quite different from that portrayed in this film.

Powell, who shot the film over 10 years, focuses on the people who work on the research bases in Antarctica, many of them at the most ordinary of trades. He’s a radio technician, while other individuals interviewed for this film do things like administration, shop keeping, finance, food preparation, and firefighting. These are support personnel, not the famous scientists you may have heard about, and Antarctica is about them at least as much as it is about the spectacular scenery and wildlife of our southernmost continent.

Powell says his goal is to “capture the true feeling of this vast, important place,” and he’s certainly made an effective presentation of what he thinks that true feeling is. He focuses on the workers who remain year ’round in Antarctica, and you can be sure that if it takes a special kind of person to enjoy life on a base in Antarctica in their summer, it takes a really special kind to want to live there all year long. Most scientific work is done in summer, when the population swells to about 5,000; in contrast, fewer than 700 remain throughout the southern winter, where the sun does not come out for weeks on end and hurricane-force winds are a weekly occurrence.

Why do they do it? The year ’rounders offer a variety of explanations, which come down to a few basic points: They treasure the camaraderie of living in a small community from which there is literally no escape; they love the fact that people from many nationalities can work together and in peace; they love the unspoiled scenery and wildlife; and they feel a bit different from other people but are right at home among a work crew made up largely of others who are also different. One woman says that working in Antarctica made her feel like part of the majority for the first time in her life, while a man, noting the marriage prospects among the work crews, remarked, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

There’s also plenty of stunning cinematography in Antarctica, including some of the best footage of the Northern Lights that I have ever seen. Powell is a big fan of time-lapse photography, which offers him the ability to show natural changes at an accelerated pace, but he also takes the time to show simple, natural sights in real time (including some great penguin sequences). Unlike some of the more blockbuster-styled nature films, however, Antarcticaalways remains on a human scale, with a low-key soundtrack and no attempts to overwhelm the viewer with the immensity of the continent or the sheer strangeness of its topography. | Sarah Boslaugh


Antarctica: A Year on Ice will be screened as part of the Webster University Film Series July 17-22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public; $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools; $4 for Webster staff and faculty; and free for Webster students with proper I.D. Tickets are available from the cashier before each screening; to learn about other options, contact the Film Series office at 314-246-7525. The Film Series can only accept cash or checks.

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