Over the course of a year, engineer Anthony Powell charts the highs and lows of working on the coldest, most remote and most sparsely populated places on the planet; Antarctica.
It is obvious from the get go that Powell loves the place that he has chosen to call home, and as such, the film turns into a love letter to one of the most isolated places on Earth. Powell captures the bleak beauty of Antarctica, as well as the wildlife and the stunning, freakish weather conditions. Interspersed with this are interviews with the people who have made their homes in the New Zealand base, who explain their motivation to move to such a place, and the reasons they love it there.
The film falls down, however, in the lack of a true narrative structure; winter follows summer, and brings with it it’s own challenges. While this is interesting from a place of almost morbid curiosity – how do they do it?! – we don’t ever really go on a journey with these people, other than a journey of endurance. Survival is never really an issue, uncomfortable though life may be, so we are left to admire the tenacity of the people who remain through the winter and put up with intense weather and months upon months of darkness, but without a story, Antarctica: A Year on Ice becomes more of a travelogue than anything else.
That said, however, we do empathise with the occupants of Antarctica, as they struggle with the fall out of their choices to live at the end of the Earth – family members live and die without them in attendance – and there are some truly lovely touches, such as the celebration at new year, which takes place in summer daylight, and the film festival set up by Powell to give the inhabitants a creative outlet.
In all, Antarctica: A Year on Ice is an interesting insight into life at the end of the world, but without a story to follow and a hero to root for, the film turns into a stunningly beautiful catalogue; a diary of a year where everything changes, yet everything stays the same.