Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Hit film's maker back on ice

Kiwi Anthony Powell has returned to Antarctica to put together an 8-part TV series.
New Zealand documentary maker Anthony Powell. Photo / Anthony Powell
New Zealand documentary maker Anthony Powell. Photo / Anthony Powell

An Antarctica-based Kiwi whose documentary became a runaway global hit is back on the ice for another major project.

Taranaki-born Anthony Powell has lost count of the awards his film Antarctica: A Year on Ice has won at festivals since it premiered two years ago - at last tally it was about 20.

But its success has allowed him to spend another year on the continent, putting together what will become an eight-part TV series from a small office at the south end of Scott Base.

Mr Powell had spent a decade on the ice working as a communications technician before he made his film.

A keen photographer and videographer, he snatched every chance between jobs to capture snapshots of the dramatic environment.

Anthony Powell.
Anthony Powell.


"Sometimes I'd be working up on a mountain top, putting up a repeater, and I'd have 10 minutes to spare before the helicopter came, so I'd be frantically filming a bit of stuff." At other times, when the weather grounded flights and left him stranded, he could happily have 10 hours to film scenes, such as time lapses and shots of Mt Erebus or the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

It was an ongoing experiment in film-making in the world's most hostile and far-flung landscape - and it cost him thousands of dollars in camera gear. "Over winter, for example, I'd be figuring out systems that could work in the extreme cold, because no one had really done it before." Once he'd shot enough of the natural world, his focus turned to life on base and the human story of Antarctica.

A request for interviews pinned to the McMurdo Station noticeboard quickly drew candidates. The result was an incredible insight into what it's like to spend 12 months in Antarctica, from the flight in and the bright summer season through to the dark winter when most people have gone home.

Partly thanks to his work with high-profile productions such as BBC's Frozen Planet, he secured a North American distribution deal, opening the door to cinemas across America. "It was quite overwhelming - there was a hugely positive response."

This time Mr Powell has been able to devote all his time to film-making.

It's meant trying to book places on helicopters, tagging along with scientists on expeditions and arranging shoots months in advance, while also supporting a National Geographic project and producing short informative clips for Antarctica New Zealand.

Anthony Powell has won at least 20 awards for his documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice.
Anthony Powell has won at least 20 awards for his documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice.


As a fulltime member of Scott Base, he's free to jump in a tracked Hagglund carrier or a skidoo whenever there's one available.

"I'd like to spend a lot more time this year looking at some of the research going on and the scientific side of activity here." And, he says, the place "sort of gets under your skin - so trying to convey just how special it is, that's my main motivation".

• Read more from Jamie's Antarctica trip here tinyurl.com/hqlt8hv

- NZ Herald

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