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For Your Consideration: 'Antarctica: A Year on Ice'

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Antarctica: A Year on Ice, directed by Anthony Powell
Scientific studies continue to show that the world's warming seas are contributing to an accelerated melting of the Antarctic glaciers. Although Anthony Powell's new documentary, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, is not mainly about this phenomenon, it is a visually beautiful study of human habitation on the southern ice cap. Powell and his wife live in Antarctica -- not just in the summer when most researchers are there, but throughout the year. This small film, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, was made over the course of ten years there, a glimpse into what people who spend the harsh winter in Antarctica have to go through -- "a wild and lonely winter few will ever experience," as Powell puts it in his narration.

The innovative part of the film is the time-lapse video of this most cruel landscape, captured at the cost of wearing out "thousands of dollars of camera gear." The effect it produces is often stunning, like the 360-degree continuous shot that follows the never-setting summer sun as it seems to revolve around McMurdo Station; ice freezing or unfreezing in the bay; the aurora australis flickering in the sky; or the supply ship unloading a year's worth of supplies before the winter residents are marooned on the ice for a period of near-total darkness for the Antarctic winter. The people who choose to remain there in such conditions are a special breed, and Powell focuses mainly on the ins and outs of their life in isolation from the rest of the world.

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What they undergo is extraordinary in one sense. Antarctica is larger than the United States, and the number of people remaining year-long is less than a thousand. It is desolate: as Powell puts it, "there are still places there where no human has ever set foot." The most harrowing passages are taken during the terrifying hurricane-like storms that sweep across the ice in the winter, with winds so strong that snow is forced through tiny cracks in structures and vehicles, completely filling them with snow. At one point, someone throws a cup of boiling water out the window, to show how it is instantly transformed into icy vapor in the extreme cold. Interviews with people during the winter and footage of what they do for most of the time reveal a drab, confining life, as well as the kooky things they do to keep things interesting. One of these folks muses about the international cooperation on Antarctica, one of the few places in the world where countries actually work together, in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, to preserve this unusual place for scientific research. If only we could do the same in other parts of the world.

This film opens today at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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