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The last pristine wilderness left on the planet

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Antarctica: A Year on Ice, a documentary about the people who work year-round in the harshest conditions on earth, has won 16 international festival awards. Here, director/photographer Anthony Powell talks about the film, which screens in Bermuda this Sunday.

What makes this film different than other films or television shows we have seen about Antarctica?

Firstly, this is very much an insider's point of view, told from the perspective of the everyday workers, the mechanics, technicians, cargo handlers, carpenters, electricians, cleaners and cooks, the people who keep the bases running. Everyday people that are very relatable. Because it is has been made by an insider, it also means unparalleled levels of access to places and people. Secondly the footage has been meticulously gathered for over ten years, including nine winters. Most visiting film crews only come down for a few weeks during the short summer season, which is only a tiny fraction of the full experience. For the first time, audiences get to experience the full year-round experience of life in Antarctica.

Do you ever get tired of it?

No. Even after all these years I still love it. It truly is the last pristine wilderness left on the planet. There are places there no human has ever set foot. The air is incredibly crisp and clean, the skies are clear and free of light pollution, letting you see more stars than you can imagine. If you get away from the base on a calm day there is absolutely nothing to hear but your own breathing. The auroras and nacreous clouds can fill the entire skies sometimes; it is just breathtaking.

How do you cope with the months of darkness in winter?

I actually find the winter darkness easier to get used to than the 24-hour sunlight in summer. The continuous summer sunlight can disrupt sleep patterns more easily for me. In winter it is not all that much different to a lot of places in the world where you go to work in winter and it is dark, then work inside under artificial lights all day. And of course there are the rewards of what is probably the best night sky viewing on the planet.

What's the hardest thing about living there?

I'd say just the isolation from friends and family back home; missing out on family events. Especially during the winter when we are isolated from the rest of the world for six months with no way out. If something goes wrong at home during the winter, you have no way of being with your family, you are stuck there. Conversely, in many ways one of the best things about being there is the isolation. You are suddenly free from media bombardment and advertising. You have all the noise of modern society removed, and you get to concentrate on the simple pleasures of life again.

How did you come up with the idea of producing this documentary and why did it take you so long?

I initially started shooting time-lapse when digital cameras got to the point where you could take a still photo that would hold up on a big screen, and was amazed at how well it brought the landscape to life. You can normally sense the things going on around you, but not see them. The first few years was just building up more and more footage, as well as inventing systems that could still work in the extreme cold of winter. Often what is on the screen for a few seconds took me days or sometimes even months to capture. Once I felt I had enough material to show the changing seasons of nature, I concentrated on filming the people more, and telling the story to hold the rest of the visuals together. Of course the other reason it took so long to make is because I was filming in my spare time. By the time you get done with the normal busy work day, there is not a huge amount of time left over.

Could you learn from anybody else how to film in those conditions or did you have to come up with new methods?

Filming in the summer was pretty straightforward, but filming in winter I had to learn how to do it all myself through trial and error. No one else had done it before, so that is another reason it took so long to make the film. I broke a lot of cameras over the years, but in the end I think the results were well worth it.

Antarctica: A Year on Ice screens at the Weekend Film Series on Sunday, May 18 at 3pm in the Tradewinds Auditorium of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. Tickets are available from the Oceans Gift Shop at the BUEI or by calling 294-0204.

Director Anthony Powell has spent ten winters in Antarctica. award-winning documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice tells the story of people who do just that, enduring six months of winter isolation among the world's harshest weather conditions. It is one of two films being shown at the Bermuda Docs Weekend Film Series on Sunday afternoon at Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute
Director Anthony Powell has spent ten winters in Antarctica. award-winning documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice tells the story of people who do just that, enduring six months of winter isolation among the world's harshest weather conditions. It is one of two films being shown at the Bermuda Docs Weekend Film Series on Sunday afternoon at Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute

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Published May 14, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated May 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm)

The last pristine wilderness left on the planet

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