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Documentary Review - Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)

By Edited May 20, 2016 1 0


Map of Antarctica

                                                           Map of Antarctica - Wikimedia

The Work of Anthony Powell

It took 15 years for Photographer Anthony (Antz) Powell to make this film, which he produced, directed, and photographed.  Countless hours were spent standing in the cold to accomplish this feat.  Antarctica lies at the very bottom of our planet.  It is larger than the United States.  There are just two seasons there - summer and winter.  Winter arrives in March and stays for six months; summer arrives in September and also stays for six months.  The months of June and July are spent in total darkness.

Anthony Powell, acting as narrator, gives the rest of the world a view of what life in Antarctica is like.  It is necessary to be there bodily for one whole year to understand the continent properly.  About 5000 people work in Antarctica in the summer; when winter comes, only 700 persons remain.  The people who live there are average people just doing their jobs.

I was able to view this film while taking notes on my laptop at the same time.  Thus, it is a fairly accurate chronicle of what transpires in a year’s time in Antarctica, according to Anthony Powell.                                                                 

Arrival in Antarctica

Getting off the plane for the first time and stepping out onto the ice, your first breath is like a sledgehammer to the face.  It will take some getting used to.  McMurdo Station is somewhat disappointing; it is not extraordinary.  No pets or children are allowed there.  Only 20 people stay at McMurdo over the winter.  Some of them have been coming for 13 years.


McMurdo Station Sign

                                                         McMurdo Station Sign - Wikimedia

Both men and women come to Antarctica to work.  Tolerance is a necessary virtue since a lot of things can get to you pretty quickly and you cannot change them.  One woman mentioned how impressed she was with the white mountains.  She stated “We have not had the opportunity to mess it up very much.”  A male worker said he could live there indefinitely if he could just get out on occasion.

There are places in Antarctica where no human has ever set foot.  It is pure and untouched.  Its grandeur is evident, as well as its emptiness.  Anthony Powell states that the McMurdo Dry Valleys are a corner of Earth that is most like Mars. You can experience absolute silence there.  There is no noise pollution such as you have in your daily life back in the real world.   


Antarctica Workers

                                                       McMurdo Station Workers - Wikimedia

A Wedding Ceremony on the Ice

Antz met his wife Christine, an American adventurer, in Antarctica.  They were married in a ceremony on the ice at McMurdo Base in 2003.  The flowers were all hand made out of paper, their rings were made of brass, and Antz wore a borrowed tuxedo.  Christine has been at his side ever since that day.  In total, Antz has wintered here nine times, and Christine has spent the winter there eight times.

Holidays are spent joyfully.  Christmas and New Year’s Eve are times of great celebration.  Some say it is like living in Never-Never Land.  But there is no escape from each other.  You are forced to interact with your fellow workers.  Relationships can be very intense, whether good or bad.

The Natives

The Adelies Penguins are native to Antarctica.  They have an intelligence similar to a chicken.  The oldest one near McMurdo Station is 18 years old.  The penguins you see on television do not prepare you for the real thing.  The stench of a penguin can be unbearable in the summer.


Penguins in Antarctica

                                                     Penguins in Antarctica - Wikimedia


An icebreaker arrives in the New Year to make way for supply ships.  A race ensues against the coming winter.  McMurdo Sound is as far south as you can bring a supply ship.  Ten million pounds of supplies come in.  The ship is then reloaded with rubbish, human waste, and garbage.  Nothing is left behind.

When Winter Begins

The sun remains above the horizon for four months here.  At the end of February, the sun begins to disappear.   It is then that most people think of hitting home. When the last plane leaves, that’s it.  You are stuck at McMurdo for the next six months.  There is no way out.  The whole town breathes a big sigh.  Here we are!  We are our friends and family for the next six months.  It is not a career for most people, but for some it is.  Some workers come down and do not do well with the winter when there is nothing to do.  The chief job in winter is to maintain communication with the outside world.  There are severe weather conditions at McMurdo Station.

Black Island, near McMurdo, is one of the windiest places on the planet.  The wind is often equal to a Category One Hurricane.  Winds can reach from 90-125 miles per hour.   As the sea freezes, wildlife begins to disappear around Ross Island.  The temperature could be -80 with the wind chill.  It is time to get inside.  Strangely, it is hard to focus when the weather is so cold.  People get forgetful, their memory is flawed.  One man told of putting his boots on the wrong feet; another stated that he could not remember if S came before or after T in the alphabet.  There seems to be no explanation for this lapse.

Longing for Home

It is often difficult to be away from home.  One man mentioned that his sister had just had a baby and he was unhappy about missing the festivities surrounding the event.  One woman was distraught when she learned that her father had passed away unexpectedly and she could not be there.  One woman hung pictures of her family all around which helped her immensely in overcoming homesickness.  Being on the most isolated place on the planet is difficult for a lot of people.


Antarctica - The Last Sunset of Summer

                                                    Antarctica - The Last Sunset of Summer

Total Darkness

At the end of April, the sun sets permanently for four months.  There will be 24 hours of darkness.  The workers start to get used to living in a world without daylight.  Some are frightened of the coming darkness for so many months.  When the weather report warns of a Condition One Storm, no one is allowed outside.  We saw evidence of this when a worker opened a bunkhouse door, and howling wind was all that could be seen.  Winters are spent mostly in repairing tools and doing inventory.  Many are in the rut of waking, going to work, eating, sleeping, and doing it all over again.  It helps to spend some time alone, reading a book, knitting, or working on a hobby.

One woman spoke of the beauty of the sky at this time.  The stars blink like fluorescent lights – pink, green, and blue.  There are waves of green like fairy dust fluttering across the sky.  She said she had a feeling that you might get if aliens were about to abduct you.  It was an emotional life-changing experience.  It was beautiful.

Summer Arrives

The sun comes up again in August, which is actually the coldest time of the year.  Seeing the sun is always an amazing experience.  It’s a life-giving thing, one woman explained.  For fun, the men dive into freezing water in bathing suits when it is 40 degrees below zero.  Some spoke about the wish for the scent of flowers, crops, grass, and even dirt.  The smell in Antarctica is volcanic.  They also miss rain, and trees, and water.

With the coming of daylight, the population doubles.  New germs are brought in, in contrast to the winter when there were no germs.  Winter people are pale from the lack of sunshine; the new people are tan.  One fellow explained that they had become territorial.  He resented having to wait in line in the cafeteria which was overcrowded.  He was angry at the newcomers.  It was culture shock for him, having these dynamic changes, and the noise level got to him also.  Yet again, the winter people were thrilled to experience fresh apples, oranges, and bananas which they devoured for the first time in six months.


Visitolrs in Antarctica

                                                          Visitors in Antarctica - Wikimedia

A Life-Changing Experience

It is not easy to paint a picture of what I viewed in this awesome film about Antarctica.  The scenes were breathtaking.  The workers were courageous, and yet they were normal human beings.  They claimed that it would be impossible to explain the experience to people back home, who could never fully comprehend what life is like in Antarctica.  Memories such as this can last a lifetime.  Many admitted longing for Antarctica when they are away from it.  I, myself, must say that viewing this film was a life-changing experience.

Others must feel equally as impressed.  Anthony Powell and his company Antzworks won the "One-In-A-Million Award," for his Documentary.  The award  honored feature length films made for under $1 million at the Sun Valley Film Festival in 2014.

Antarctica: A Year On Ice
Amazon Price: $29.95 $17.52 Buy Now
(price as of May 20, 2016)


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