Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary


I was supposed to see this film a couple of years ago during the Twin Cities Film Festival, but for some reason I couldn’t make it to the screening. The film won Best Documentary from TCFF and rightly so. Well, after finally witnessing this spectacular documentary this weekend, I’m even more gutted I missed it on the big screen. To say that it’s a visual feast is putting it mildly, it’s a surprise my jaw didn’t get stuck on the floor as I was watching it. As I’m not sure if I ever get to visit earth’s Southern Hemisphere in my lifetime, I can always live vicariously through New Zealand’s photographer/filmmaker Anthony B. Powell and his team who spent a year in the icy continent.


The description on IMDb reads: A visually stunning chronicle of what it is like to live in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and enduring months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth. I thought it’d be a typical nature documentary with jaw-droppingly beautiful imagery and some insightful facts about the continent, but what sets this film apart is how affecting and personal the journey is, as told from the perspective of the filmmaker Powell, as well as some of the interviewees who gave us insight into what’s it like working in Antarctica. Ranging from helicopter pilot, fireman, firehouse dispatcher, cook, store clerk, operations manager, etc. they share the psychological perspective of how the extreme weather affect them as a person and how life-altering their experience is. The film takes place in the New Zealand’s Scott Base or United States’ McMurdo Base where most of the crews were stationed at.

Most of the people interviewed seem to have a positive experience, in fact most of them have gone back time and time again, even enduring the Antarctica winter year after year. I said the word endure because that’s a perfect description for it, as one must have a certain endurance power to be able to survive such a harsh condition. It’s interesting that I watch this as Winter is coming to a close, I should’ve watched this in January as it’d make even the harshest Minnesota Winter like a walk in the park! As I was watching the film, it made me wonder if I could survive living in Antarctica. I mean, it’d be a treat to see those adorable penguins up close, but there’s also tragic sights of dying seals who froze to death. Of course there’s the extreme climate itself where four months out of the year you’d be engulfed in complete darkness with temps reaching −89 °C (−129 °F) and even colder windchill. Not to mention the monstrous storms that could freeze anything in sight in a matter of milliseconds.


The film doesn’t just show the glamorous side of living in Antarctica… the obvious homesickness and missing family members, but there are also times when some of the workers couldn’t even go back home to attend the birth of their sister’s first child or their father’s funeral. On the bright side, Powell himself found love during his time in Antarctica, as the film showed his wedding to Christine Powell who helped him make this film. So there are heart-wrenching and contemplative moments in the film that gives the film an emotional substance on top of just something beautiful to look at. There are also humorous moments, such as when interviewees share about the T3 Syndrome which happens during winter when the T3 hormone in the brain is reassigned to the muscles of the body in an effort to protect it against the extreme cold. You’re probably more familiar w/ the term brain freeze, though most of us probably don’t have their excuse 😉

It took Powell 10 years to make this film, it’s pretty much a passion project for him as he also wrote and produced it, and his wife Christine is credited as second unit director. I’m glad I finally saw this film, if I were to rate it I’d give it a 4.5/5 reels. Featuring plenty of amazing time-lapse photography, it’s one of the most stunning film you’ve ever seen that’s also thought-provoking and inspiring. One of the few female interviewees, who happens to be from rural Minnesota, remarked that many nations get along better in Antarctica than any other parts in the world, now that should also gives you something to ponder. Highly recommended.

Check out the trailer:

With this post, I’m relaunching the Traveling Thru Cinema series that
I launched two years ago
with In Bruges

I hope to keep up with this series at least every other month from now on.

Have you seen this documentary? If so, what did you think?

32 thoughts on “Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary

    1. I highly recommend this one Michael, you won’t be disappointed! It’s really fascinating not just in terms of scenery, but the psychological aspect of the people living there.

    1. Well I haven’t seen the Herzog doc but I’d think it’d be quite different from this one. It’s a personal story from the NZ filmmaker, so I don’t know that I’d compare that to someone else’s, no matter how famous.

    1. Hi Brenda! I wish I could travel to Antarctica for real… but until that happens, yeah it’s still fun to vicariously living the experience through the film!

  1. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Intriguing critique and tale!

    My old AF Reserve unit supplied C-141s for the Christ Church to Antarctica mission during the 1990s. As part of operation Deep Freeze. Lonnnng flight from outside DC to Hawaii. Then to New Zealand the next day. Slightly shorter flight to Christ Church. And another day to get to the bottom of the world.

    Huge shock exiting the contained plane and stepping out into huge, quiet cold vastness! Cold and with some colors and sights never seen before. Also surprised to find that centuries old Ice has the same qualities as poured, reinforced concrete, I was kind of glad to head back to the civilization and normality of New Zealand two days later to keep the second C-141 company and ready to fly down supplies and equipment.

    1. Oh wow, you’ve actually been to Antarctica??! How awesome is that Kevin, I’m so jealous! Yeah the filmmaker talked about how it was quite a shock to the system the moment they breathed the air as they stepped out of the plane. I’d love to visit there one day, though I’m not sure I could survive the Winter there!

  2. Abbi

    I want a penguin! My husband works in the London Dungeon, which is connected to the London Aquarium and if you walk through some of the tunnels in the background then you can actually see them up close. I am so jealous!

    1. What’s the London Dungeon? That sounds like a fun job, with and without the penguin encounter. I love penguins too, I had the biggest smile on my face watching them in their natural habitat in this film.

    1. Hi Cindy! I’m still kicking myself that I missed this on the big screen. But yeah, watching it from a warm couch in AZ sounds great too 😀

    1. Hi Nostra, I finally just read about Herzog’s doc. Well, sounds like he staged some of the interviews in his film, but this one the interviews seem very natural to me. The filmmaker have worked in Antarctica for years and so most of the interviewees are his friends, so it felt more casual and natural to me. Definitely worth checking out!

    1. Hi Ted! I was thinking the same thing. Man it’d have looked spectacular on IMAX, but I think this was done in a smaller budget and thus it felt more personal than a typical nature documentary.

      1. Oh yeah, I don’t think they could afford to rent or buy the IMAX cameras, that thing cost like $1mil each!! But it would’ve been great had they had the big budget and shot it in IMAX. I just looked it up on Bluray and it’s coming out in a couple of weeks so I’m going to rent it for sure.

  3. Colour me intrigued too! I have never heard of this doco, wonder if its out on blu-ray. It looks like some the the scenery is incredible, and anything from NZ I like to support as its just across the pond from me

    1. Hi Jordan, I rented it thru iTunes, so it’s available to rent on streaming. The scenery is incredible but the stories felt quite personal to me, it’s really quite well done. So yeah, since the filmmaker is from your neck of the woods you should absolutely check this out!

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  5. Saw this pop up on a forum and piqued my interest. However a few people have said there were one too many talking heads in this film, rather than enjoying the spectacle of the Antartica. But I do want to give it a watch.

    1. Y’know, I never felt that there are too many talking heads. In fact, the people sharing their experiences living there gives those stunning imagery a certain context and also made the film feel more personal/relatable.

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