Friday, 13 August 2010

And now for something completely different...the Antarctica International Film Festival

Today (in theory at least, the weather forecast looks pretty bad so it might not happen) marks the start for this year of the annual 'Winfly', when US Air Force aircraft fly into McMurdo Base, Antarctica for the first time in several months to drop off fresh food and new people to start gearing up for the annual 'summer'  research season.

I've become intrigued recently at the culture of the Antarctic stations - where the only inhabitants (in theory at least) are generally either scientists or people providing logistics support for science, and those there at the moment, the 'winter-overs', endure months of complete isolation and very little sunlight (photo of the aurora from Australia's David Station, by Nick Roden).

Of course, Antarctica might be the most physically isolated of the world's continents, but no where is completely isolated these days - from the comfort of your home you can shudder at the temperature of many of the Antarctic stations through the wonderful weather underground (which can also bring you your weather forecast in Latin), look at assorted webcams throughout the continent, and of course read the blogs of residents.  Many of the stations offer regular updates on their activities online.

And they are intriguing, because Antarctic residents are perforce a closeknit society, and have developed numerous rituals, and intersperse the long night with numerous (mainly secular) feasts to cope with stresses.

The film festival

And from those one can find out about interesting events such as the annual International Film Festival, which consists of short films made by the staff of each of the stations, and exchanged between them and voted on via the internet. 

There are two categories - open, and films that have to be conceived and made within a 48 hour period, and use set elements decided by previous years winners - this year those were a grumpy, diesel mechanic; a mop; a bottle of mouthwash; the sound of a siren, and the line, “Has anybody seen my chicken?”

This year 21 stations representing 11 nations participated, producing 41 films.

And the winner of the 48 hour category came from Australia's Davis Station, and can be viewed below.

Several of the other films can be found on youtube (personally I loved the French Camembert Man the best...), and give fascinating glimpses of the bases, the scenery, and the people.


As mentioned above, the Antarctic isolation is actually scheduled to come to a temporary end for McMurdo (and nearby NZ Scott base) residents this week (the last flight in was back in February), with the start of the annual 'winfly' arrival of mail, fresh food and newbies to help prepare for the summer season or start research. The last flight in to McMurdo was back in February, and because the sun doesn't officially rise until August 19 later, the USAF pilots will use night vision goggles for several of the flights.  Do keep those flights in your prayers.

For the Australians on the ice, there are still a few months to go before flights or voyages resume...

**Update: Looks like the first flight finally arrived on Sunday August 15.

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