Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary

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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.

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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.

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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?

TCFF Awards & Top Five Film Picks from TCFF Bloggers

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Happy Halloween everyone! Pardon the late post for this folks, due to my traveling schedule to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding in NYC, naturally I had to put the blog on hiatus. But I’m back now, so here’s the summary of the 10-day film fest that ended with awards announcement during the Festival’s Closing Night Gala in St. Louis Park, MN.

Eight films were singled out for awards late Saturday night. Leading the pack was the critically acclaimed August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, which walked away with the festival’s coveted Best Feature Film award.

The indie horror hit Delivery, which enjoyed its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, won the festival’s inaugural “Indie Vision Award.” Twin Cities audiences championed Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba, with the TCFF Audience Award (feature), and the Mason Makram short The First Date with the TCFF Audience Award (short).

The awards ceremony marked the culmination of the 10-day festival, which screened more than 75 titles – a mix of independent premieres and Hollywood sneak peeks – at the Showplace ICON Theatres. In addition to the annual October festival, the Minnesota-based non-profit organizes year-round programming, as well as industry networking events and educational opportunities. Learn more at twincitiesfilmfest.org.

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The complete list of 2013 winners:

Best Feature Film: August: Osage County (dir. John Wells)

Best Documentary: Antarctica: A Year On Ice (dir. Anthony Powell)

Best Short Film: Hot and Bothered (dir. Jake Greene)

Audience Award (Feature): Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (dir. Justin Chadwick)

Audience Award (Short): The First Date (dir. Mason Makram)

Indie Vision Award: Delivery (dir. Brian Netto)

TCFF Breakthrough Achievement Award: Emily Fradenburgh, actress, Nothing Without You (dir. Xackery Irving)

Congrats to all the winners! Now, naturally everyone’s going to have a different list of favorites, so I asked two of TCFF blog volunteers to list their own top five picks. Here they are:

Sarah’s Picks:

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  1. August: Osage County. Meryl Streep as the venom-spewing, drug-addicted matriarch of a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Nebraska. I’m a fan of Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “The Descendants”) so I thoroughly enjoyed this funny yet poignant glimpse into a father-son relationship.
  3. Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon. This movie is what film fests are all about. I found myself pleasantly surprised by this independent tale of a heist gone wrong. And I got to meet the director in person as well, what’s cooler than that?
  4. Remote Area Medical. Filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman managed to bring one of the hot button issues of our time into focus as a human story that allows the viewer to reach their own conclusion without sensationalism.
  5. Hot and Bothered. This one is just for fun- in 12 minutes, filmmakers Natalie Irby and Jake Green develop a plot that you wouldn’t mind watching again to catch the subtle nuances and enjoy the double entendres.

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Adam’s Picks:

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  1. The Gold Sparrow. This played in block one of the Best Of Minnesota Shorts. A spectacular animated film from Daniel Steesen, with only having music for its soundtrack, it is able to tell an intriguing story about a woman who steals the color of this animated world. It has an amazing score that is fast paced and keeps up with the vibrant colors used in the color stealing scenes.
  2. Honeymoon Suite. This film played before the feature presentation of “We Are What We Are.” This film tells the story of a difficult hotel guest who stays at a hotel once a month for a problem he can’t deal with at home. Originally planned as an extended commercial for a Chinese hotel that claims to be able to handle any type of hotel guest, it is able to take on a life of its own, and is a delight to enjoy.
  3. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. This film is a new bar on how biopics should be made. This movie aimed to be very ambitious in how detailed and extensive it is in telling the story of Nelson Mandela and it is able to accomplish it and show the good and bad of how Nelson Mandela has lived his life. Idris Elba turns in a top notch performance becoming Nelson Mandela during the course of this film. Audience will be amazed at how deep Elba goes to pull off this role.
  4. Antarctica: A Year On Ice. A Fascinating documentary about the men and women who work on the research bases in Antarctica. Director Anthony Powell had to build and test equipment he made on his own to capture long extensive footage and time lapses in Antarctica as most camera equipment already available can’t survive the harsh environment. A beautifully shot film and engaging documentary that gives insight to the people who are work in Antarctica.
  5. How I Live Now. This movie tells the story of an American teenage girl who is visiting her cousins in England when all of a sudden World War 3 starts. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan who turns a spectacular performance of a girl who has to grow and mature whil the world around her drastically changes. The physical and mental journey Ronan’s character endures in this movie is one rarely seen. The movie has some dark elements but is still a delight to watch as the film allows you to feel the same emotions as the main character has, the characters and stories are fleshed out so well in this film.

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Ruth’s Picks

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Now, for my picks, I only include feature and documentary films, as I’ve listed my favorite short films in this post, which includes the TCFF winner Hot and Bothered, as well as the sci-fi-themed short A Better Life. Check out my interview with both filmmakers Jake Greene and Conor Holt. I missed a few films that I had planned on seeing as I was sidelined with a cold, but out of what I was able to see, here are my favorites in alphabetical order:

  1. August: Osage County
    With a cast like this one, naturally one has quite a high expectations but thankfully it delivers. Well to be exact, they deliver! Meryl Streep does it again, proving she is the acting legend of our generation and beyond playing a decidedly- unlikable role. The rest of the cast of this extremely-dysfunctional family does wonders as well, though as a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, I have to admit his scenes are my favorites. He’s memorable even in his brief scenes, plus he sings beautifully too! Even though it’s tricky to adapt a play into film, I think the story actually translates pretty well thanks to John Wells’ direction. If you think your family is a mess, you probably would feel a heck of a lot better about it once you see this film.
    ,,,
  2. The Armstrong Lie
    One of the best documentaries I’ve seen, it’s so well-made, beautifully-shot and features an unprecedented access to its subject matter. The Lance Armstrong doping scandal resulted in perhaps THE biggest fall-from-grace of any celebrity athlete in the world. Yet, the doc is not done in a way to paint Armstrong as evil, I think it’s a pretty balanced account of the debacle as it starts out as a project about his come-back to Tour de France. In the end, it’s not so much about the doping but the abuse of power in covering ‘a lie that has become unbelievable’ that brought him down.
  3. Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football (view my full review)
    Considering I’m not even a football fan, it’s a testament to how good this documentary is that I list it as my favorites. It’s eye-opening but also quite entertaining. In 90-min, it’s jam-packed with historical backgrounds, stats, and first-account interviews with various players, medical professionals, as well as some family members of the people suffering from the brain injury CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). An essential viewing for sports fan, but definitely worth watching even if you’re not.
  4. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
    There has been quite a lot of films involving Mandela, in fact I think I’ve seen three of them in the past five years. But this is perhaps the most comprehensive as it’s based on his own biography of the same name. I LOVE Idris Elba so he’s the main draw, but even so, I was a bit skeptical of his casting at first. But I think Elba did a fantastic job immersing himself into the South African hero, as what matters in the end is not the ‘look’ of the actor but his ability to embody the essence of the character. I also love the relationship between Nelson and his second wife Winnie (played wonderfully by Naomie Harris) and the two have a strong chemistry. At 146 min, the film’s editing could’ve been tightened a bit but Elba’s compelling performance has the gravitas to command your attention, every step of the way.
  5. Nebraska
    I knew this one would boast great performances but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed this film. Alexander Payne has a gift in creating a whimsical family drama, balancing comedy and poignancy in this father & son road trip film. Bruce Dern deserves all the kudos he’s been receiving for his performance (including his Cannes’ Best Actor win) as he holds the screen even without saying a word. SNL alum Will Forte is quite a revelation in a serious role, though it’s June Quibb as Dern’s wife is the real scene-stealer with her outrageous remarks. The film is also boast a marvelous black & white cinematography of Midwestern America.
    ….

Honorable Mention:
SearchForSimonI just had to include The Search for Simon, a British sci-fi comedy, directed by Martin Gooch who’s also the lead actor in the film. It’s a enjoyable little film that’s hilarious and quirky without being mean-spirited. It’s also doesn’t have a lot of crude language that’s typical of British comedies, and Mr. Gooch is so immensely likable! I hope this will be available to rent soon, I highly recommend it if you enjoy British humor. Check out the specially-made video from Martin Gooch if you haven’t already. Trust me, it’s a hoot!

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That’s it from TCFF 2013! Hope you enjoy our coverage this year.
It’s always been fun to be a part of the film festivities!

Join us next year on October 16, 2014!


Thoughts on any of our picks? Which one(s) of these have you seen?

TCFF Day 9 and Closing Day Film Highlights

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Happy Friday everyone!! We’ve still got a couple of days worth of festivities before TCFF wraps, but sadly today is my last day covering the film fest as I’m flying to NYC on Saturday morning to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding. No fret though, I’ll still be posting some of the reviews from both days, as well as the interviews with two short film directors I’ve promised you by the week’s end. Before I get to that, check out some photos from the last 8 days:

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October 25 – Day 9 Films


Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Friday, October 25th at 11:30 am
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, while enduring months of unending darkness in the coldest place on Earth.


Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football
Friday, October 25th at 1:45 pm (2nd screening)
An historical film that tells the story of a game that was always dangerous, and whose dangers, though controversial, were also desired.  View my full review

Tapia
Friday, October 25th at 4:00 pm
TAPIA takes us inside the tortured soul of Johnny Tapia, the 5-time world champion boxer whose unprecedented success was overshadowed by a volatile drug addiction brought on by the brutal rape and murder of his mother at the young age of 8 years old. Director Eddie Alcazar candidly reveals Tapia’s public struggles through his intimate last interview, archival footage, and photos that showcase his vivacious personality ad child-like gusto.

The Bloom: A Journey Through Transformational Festivals
Friday October 25th at 6:15 pm
Special Guest: Dave Schnak, Director of Photography
THE BLOOM series explores the emerging culture of transformational festivals in 4-parts including over 23 festivals during 2012-2013. Each episode examines three themes that contribute to the transformational effects of the festivals.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom view trailer
Friday October 25th at 6:30 pm
Special Guests: Representatives from Minnesota African-American Museum
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society.


A Method

Friday, October 25th at 9:00 pm
Special Guests: Director Paul Von Stoetzel and Cast and Crew
A METHOD follows the acting process of Andrea (Jane Froiland), a young and successful theatre performer in the Twin Cities who has been cast in her first major role in a feature film. Andrea’s progress is being recorded by Nina (Shelli Manzoline), an ambitious documentary director driven to create her next successful project. Andrea’s process becomes more and more dangerous as Nina encourages her to delve deeper into the dark reality of her character.

Delivery
Friday, October 25th at 9:45 pm
Special Guests: Brian Netto, Director and Co-writer & Adam Schindler, Co-writer

In this unnerving chiller, Kyle and Rachel Massy are a young couple who have agreed to document their first pregnancy for a reality show. During the production, a series of unexplained phenomena start plaguing the couple, eventually derailing the production of the show. Rachel, growing increasingly paranoid, starts to believe that there might be something seriously wrong with their unborn bundle of joy.


Closing Day Highlights

Here’s what the Saturday schedule looks like when you visit TCFF official site:

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Our artistic director Steve Snyder said this is THE best day he’s ever scheduled in the entire four years programming for TCFF. Nine feature films/documentaries and a myriad of educational panels/events to enjoy all day long! Here are some you don’t want to miss:

Remote Area Medical documentary

Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 10:45am

Directed by Jeff Reichert & Farihah Zaman

A debate over health care has been raging nationwide, but what’s been lost in the discussion are the American citizens who live day after day, year after year without solutions for their most basic needs. REMOTE AREA MEDICAL documents the annual three-day “pop-up” medical clinic organized by the non-profit Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Bristol, Tennessee’s NASCAR speedway. Instead of a film about policy, REMOTE AREA MEDICAL is a film about people, about a proud Appalachian community banding together to try and provide some relief for friends and neighbors who are simply out of options.

Pollywogs

Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 1:00pm (Filmmaker/talent attending)

Directed by Karl Jacob & T. Arthur Cottam

On the heels of a bitter breakup, Dylan travels home to Minnesota for a family reunion. There, he runs into his childhood sweetheart, Sarah, who was relocated to a religious compound when they were young. In the very place he discovered love for the first time, Dylan confronts the fantasies of his youth and realizes that the past may hold the key for what lies ahead.

Last Vegas

Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 3:00pm

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring four legends like you’ve never seen them before, LAST VEGAS tells the story of Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam (played by Academy Award-winners Michael Douglas, De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline), best friends since childhood. When Billy, the group’s sworn bachelor, finally proposes to his thirty-something (of course) girlfriend, the four head to Las Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days. However, upon arriving, the four quickly realize that the decades have transformed Sin City and tested their friendship in ways they never imagined. The Rat Pack may have once played the Sands and Cirque du Soleil may now rule the Strip, but it’s these four who are taking over Vegas

Wild Blue

Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:45pm (Filmmaker and select cast member attending)

Written and directed by Josh Hope

After his release from the foster care system, a young man leaves his small Oklahoma town for the first time to travel across the country with a strange woman he meets by chance.

Nothing Without You

Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 8:30pm

Special Guests: Xackery Irving (Director) and Emily Fradenburgh (Lead Actor)

Jennifer Stidger, a young psych-patient, is accused of killing the wife of the man she is stalking. No one, including her court-appointed psychiatrist, Charlie Branham, believes she is innocent. When she breaks out of the psych ward, Charlie becomes her only connection to reality as she struggles to prove her sanity and find the “real killer”. This fast-paced thriller will keep you guessing until the very end, what is real and what is Jennifer’s delusional fantasy?

Oh and there’s another screening of

August, Osage County – Saturday at 6 pm

AugustOsakeCountyPosterAUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwestern house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name made its Broadway debut in December 2007 after premiering at Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Theatre earlier that year.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is directed by John Wells (The Company Men) and features an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham.

It’s the kind of film you see just for the cast… but after seeing it last night, I can confidently say that the film is as stellar as the cast. Well the film is stellar because of the cast’ amazing performances. Meryl is in top form as always. As much as I’d love seeing other actors being nominated, let’s just say I won’t cry foul if I see her name amongst the nominees. ALL the performances were excellent, but the stand outs for me were Margo Martindale, Julia Roberts and Benedict Cumberbatch. I have to admit Benedict was another main draw for me to see it despite his small role, but it was well worth it! I thought he was excellent playing completely against type and his American accent is pretty darn good. Oh and he sings too!!


TCFFTickets

There’s still time to get your tickets!
General Admission $10; Opening/Closing Gala $20; Centerpiece Gala $20; Sneak Preview Galas $20. Festival Passes can also be purchased: Silver $50 for 6 films; Gold $70 for 10 films; or Platinum $120 for 12 films + 2 tickets to Opening, Closing or Gala. (Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening, Closing or Gala Tickets).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.


Stay tuned for TCFF reviews and interviews. So which films featured above you’re looking forward to most?