The spectacular visual allure of Antarctica

Antarctica: A Year on Ice is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films of the season. It is a breathtaking documentary that marks the result of a 10-year undertaking by New Zealand cinematographer Anthony Powell and is his feature debut as producer and director.

Powell is a self-taught photographer who specializes in timelapse photography. He decided to chronicle a year in Antarctica, both its natural landscape and its human contingent. There are only 30 bases on the entire continent, and at the height of its summer season, Antarctica is populated by less than 10,000 people. During the winter, far less.

Powell, who met and married his wife Christine while in Antarctica, turns his cameras to other (human) inhabitants who live and work in Antarctica, including merchants, engineers, technicians and pilots. Nobody’s there without a reason, and not everybody is suited to live there. For some, the isolation can be maddening. For others, such seclusion is a way to recharge or renew, to look at things from a different perspective — and from the bottom of the world.

Powell maintains a smooth pace throughout, punctuated by stunning examples of his timelapse photography, which did not come without a cost. “I’ve worn out thousands of dollars worth of camera gear,” he notes, though a very easy argument could be made that it was worth it given the outcome.

There are a few scenes of penguins — what would a movie about Antarctica be without them? — even the heartier species that populate Antarctica can find it a punishing environment. Truly, this is a land where only the strong survive. For all the natural beauty and splendor that Powell’s cameras capture, which he fears could one day disappear, Antarctica looks a nice place to visit but a hard place to live. It’s a trenchant reminder that nature still holds sway over us all.

Antarctica: A Year on Ice is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture Cinema, Winston-Salem !

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