Monday, 22 July 2013

Day 4: All kinds of cold

The Plan: feel comparatively warm by watching Antarctica: A Year on Ice
The Reality: it was actually quite warm already, but I went anyway.


Antarctica: A Year on Ice
     YES. This is why cameras were invented. I expected to be stunned by 92 minutes of beautiful scenery and wildlife shots. Director (and Taranaki boy) Anthony Powell delivered on that, for sure, but didn't stop there.
     Early in the film, Powell explains how he has to modify his cameras and equipment to function in the extreme cold. Thank goodness he takes the time to do that, because he keeps his cameras going long enough to capture the most amazing time-lapse shots I think I've ever seen. Time-lapse is a great technique for capturing Antarctic skies, because of course the balance of day and night is always strange. There are months of daytime, months of darkness, and months with various balances of each. Powell's time-lapses capture the strangeness of the seasons beautifully.
   In fact all of the photography is beautiful. The camera points straight down through solid ice and finds the colours, striations, and patterns within. It points at penguins and seals, at ice forming over time (stunning) and at the sky as the world moves under it. (Sidenote: the images of the sky, the stars, and the aurora australis or southern lights, were my favourites of the film. Astronomy geeks, get thee to a theatre.) Watch the clip below for examples of what you can expect to see.


     But what surprised me about this film was how human and humorous it was. We see more of the people who live in Antarctica (I didn't even know people did live semi-permanently there) than we do the continent itself. The camera examines McMurdo and Scott Bases, which function like mini-towns complete with shops and mess halls. Contrary to my expectations, the people who live and work there are not all scientists - the film follows an administrator, a fireman, a retail worker, a mechanic, and a multitude of other quite ordinary people who just happen to live on a frozen continent.
     Their stories are hilarious. We hear of T3 syndrome - the tendency in the depths of darkest winter for the brain to go a little funny. The editor has a lot of fun stitching together the many "uhhhhh" moments of the interviews into a sort of symphony of brain freeze. We also hear how the women of Antarctica refer to the male residents: "the odds are good, but the goods are odd." It seems that close quarters breed a good sense of fun. There's Icestock at New Years, and a 48 hour film festival to which each base sends a short film (look out for the French base's version of Antarctic Mario Brothers.)
     On the flipside, though, we hear of how residents can't go home to mourn deceased parents, or to visit new nieces and nephews. After a storm, Powell opens the door to a bedroom and finds the room half-filled with snow that has blown in through a tiny crack in the ceiling. Trucks are buried under ice. Tractors are filled to the roof with snow that gets in through the door. Tears freeze to workers' faces. Residents have to go for months without fresh fruit (instant deal-breaker, if you ask me).
     Powell has given us full access to what one interviewee calls the golden age of Antarctica: its residents, animal and human, and its natural beauty. And he presents all this in such a way that got the entire Civic alternating between rollicking laughter and gasps of astonishment.
     Go. Go. Aucklanders: tomorrow (Tues) night, the Civic at 6:15pm. Best $17 you'll ever spend.

See it: yes.
Skip it: don't you dare. 

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