Unique in the genre of exploration and adventure films, ICE PEOPLE takes you on one of earth's most seductive journeys Antarctica. Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion spent four months on the ice with modern-day polar explorers, to find out what drives dedicated researchers to leave the world behind in pursuit of science, and to capture the true experience of living and working in this extreme environment. Intense public focus on global warming has turned the shores of Antarctica into a new tourist mecca. But, inland from the penguins and ice floes is a magical Antarctica of volcanoes, boulder-strewn valleys and ominous glaciers. Only a small number of scientific research teams get there, braving severe conditions to learn about our planet s history, and make predictions about our future. ICE PEOPLE heads out into the deep field with noted geologists Allan Ashworth and Adam Lewis, and two undergrad scientists-in-the-making, where they scour across hundreds of miles to find tiny, critical signs of ancient life. As it turns out, the film also witnesses one of the most significant discoveries about climate change in recent Antarctic science: evidence of a green Antarctica over 14 million years old, that disappeared with a sudden shift in the temperature of the continent. The most authentic film about life on the ice since the trailblazing expeditions to Antarctica chronicled nearly a century ago, ICE PEOPLE conveys the vast beauty, the claustrophobia, the excitement and the stillness of an experience set to the rhythm of nature.
The ice in ICE PEOPLE is instantly compelling: endless white-on-white vistas, ethereal panoramas of cold. Culled from a four-month trip to Antarctica by the filmmaker Anne Aghion, this modest little documentary sets its lens on one of the most majestic and forbidding landscapes on the planet. The people of ICE PEOPLE take a while longer to come into focus. The movie, which runs a scant 77 minutes but feels four times as long, is so maddeningly slow to develop any sort of narrative shape that you begin to suspect Ms. Aghion of doodling. She is, as it turns out, a canny portraitist, and her patience in divulging the context of her project pays off as the movie sinks something of the feel (brr!) and routine of an Antarctic expedition into your bones. Her companions are a group of academic geologists sifting through rock in search of fossils, though to what end is not entirely clear. What is obvious is their tenacious, obsessive joy in work which, to the outside observer, simply looks like a bunch of grubby people unusually committed to sitting in dirt. The film's hesitation, lack of rhetorical inflation and commitment to humble observation generate a tough poetry. ICE PEOPLE sticks in the mind. --The New York Times
Rare is the film about Antarctica that does not concern itself with the playful antics of penguins, which is why this Anne Aghion documentary comes as such a welcome surprise. The polar opposite of Discovery Channel fare and a small-scale counterbalance to Werner Herzog's similar but subjective ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Aghion's film follows four geologists on a quest in the mostly snowless McMurdo Dry Valleys to learn more about prehistoric Antarctica and its effect on global climate change. Majestically shot in HD over several months, ICE PEOPLE is as much a character study as it is a science lesson, both detailing the team s research they find indisputable proof of a once-green Antarctic and understanding the mind-set of those who willingly choose a day job at the end of the earth. There is little in the way of context or background information, with Aghion opting instead to let the explorers do the talking: It is lonely at the bottom, and the appearance of the camera is an opportunity for the subjects to discuss matters metaphysical (religion versus science), dermatological (the effects of not showering for extended periods) and unavoidable (those damned snotcicles). With its lack of narration and subjective distance, the film is a uniquely meditative, psychological portrait of individuals who approach scientific exploration with the passion and fervor of artists. --Time Out New York
Despite the success of THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, IMAX's ANTARCTICA and Werner Herzog's current Oscar nominee for best documentary, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Antarctica still seems like virgin territory on film. A new French-American co-production, ICE PEOPLE emphasizes the variety of potential responses to an isolated continent that's both grand and forbidding. Moody, atmospheric and often refreshingly down-to-earth, it's not quite like any previous film about Antarctica. The director, Anne Aghion, likes to fill the screen with the kinds of lonely landscapes that David Lean once used to suggest another kind of desert. She and her cinematographer, Sylvestre Guidi, are especially fond of pulling back their cameras and demonstrating the scale of the place and the relative puniness of the scientists who have gathered there for research. Laurent Petitgand's spare score, which relies mostly on a single guitar, contributes mightily to the impact of several montages. In this context, the sudden use of Microsoft's familiar musical cue, announcing that Windows is ready, sounds downright exotic. But the filmmakers also focus on things as mundane as a discussion of the dirt that becomes part of your skin when you haven't showered for days and snotsicles forming on your nose. The claustrophobic conditions of living together, with people you get to know almost too well, can turn familiarity into a trap. Politics, religion and the war in Iraq become subjects to be mentioned gingerly. It's better to focus on science and the challenges that brought the team to this place, which they hope will shed light on what happened there millions of years ago. Whether they're examining fossils and ash layers, or they're wondering about the best spot to witness the eruption of Mount Erebus (which isn't expected to happen for a very long time), they're obsessed with the challenge of finding out just how Antarctica works. Aghion, who previously made a couple of Rwanda documentaries, doesn't provide a lot of background information about this group, which includes geologists Allan Ashworth and Adam Lewis and two undergraduates. There are moments when you wish she'd stop and explain how certain necessities are handled, but she does a thorough job of suggesting the passions and motivations of these determined polar explorers. --The Seattle Times