Movie review: Antarctica: A Year On Ice

By Peter Calder

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Anthony Powell, a satellite telecommunications engineer who came late to filmmaking, emulates his novelist namesake in creating a dance to the music of time in this impressive and unforgettable film.

The time scale he's working on is identified in the title (the last four words are every bit as important as the first one) but the movie, which Powell made with his wife Christine, is the culmination of 10 years' work on the great southern continent.

Words are entirely inadequate to convey the experience of watching this film but a couple of points must be made. First, it does not trudge the same trails as those Frozen Planet documentaries on the telly (to which Powell has contributed). The wildlife is principally human and it's a specific subset of humanity at that - people who choose, sometimes repeatedly, to spend the sunless winter at McMurdo and Scott Bases, confined to cramped living quarters.

They're the first to admit the experience has a weirdly disorientating effect on them: a telling sequence examines the complicated and ambivalent reaction they have to the new arrivals in the spring.

Few people get to Antarctica and fewer by far get to winter over, so this film provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a very isolated tribe.

Second (while we are on the subject of the telly), this is definitely not a film you should wait to see when it turns up on the box. The big Civic screen was a fitting place for its world premiere at the film festival; watching it projected on anything smaller than a cinema screen would be an insult.

For what it conveys more than anything else is the jaw-dropping scale of life in Antarctica. Powell makes sparing use of time-lapse to show the encroachment or retreat of the ice sheet; the arrival, unloading, loading and departure of a supply ship (which constructs its own wharf); and the weather patterns that sweep across and dwarf the human presence. There is ethereally beautiful footage of the aurora australis - great curtains of green in the dark sky.

To say it's the next best thing to going there sells it short. For all its of unassuming ambition, this is an extraordinary achievement that reinvigorates our sense of wonder about the natural world. Make a point of seeing it.

Stars: 5/5
Director: Anthony Powell
Running time: 91 mins
Rating: Exempt
Verdict: A (for Antarctica and awesome).

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- NZ Herald

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