Antarctica’s golden years


Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Antarctica: A Year on Ice, is about the people who work on the frozen continent.

• Director Mike Leigh is a British institution, producing subtle, sensitive films that run deep, such as the 1996 Palme d’Or winner Secrets & Lies and his earlier Life Is Sweet. His latest work to hit these shores – opening on Christmas Day – is a biopic about the last 25 years of the great English impressionist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Leigh is best known for films with well-rounded characters, but Mr. Turner has been earning praise as much for the visual strengths of his warts and all portrait of the brilliant, but flawed, artist. The ever-reliable Timothy Spall won Best Actor at Cannes 2014 for his performance as the titular character.

Antarctica has been in the news of late. A few months ago, two separate studies by NASA and University of Washington stated the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet was in “irreversible retreat… past the point of no return.” We learned that coming generations could look forward to sea level rises of up to four metres around the world as the ice melted. So the release of the documentary, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, about the people who work on the frozen continent, is a timely one (Vancity, Dec. 5-11).

Director Anthony Powell, a satellite telecommunications engineer turned filmmaker, made the film with his wife over the course of 10 years and, as the title suggests, it charts 12 months on a US base in Antarctica through the white summer nights and the dark winter days. Often humorous, the film is an appreciation of the harsh environment, severe cold, pristine beauty of the natural icescape and the unique culture that has evolved there. Reviews suggest spectacular visuals combine well with an entertaining portrait of the temporary human population and a poignant reminder that, as one of the characters puts it, “These might be the golden years of Antarctica.”

Snow is the backdrop for Force Majeure, a Swedish drama about a middle-aged family man whose world crumbles after a near-miss avalanche incident at a ski resort. When Tomas follows his instinctive urge to run for his life, abandoning his family, the skiing holiday descends into a living purgatory as he tries to come to terms with his action (at Vancity until Dec. 14).

Gemma Bovery is a sensuous, modern take on Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 classic novel, based on Posy Simmonds’ 1999 graphic novel. Gemma Arterton stars as a beautiful, bored and unfaithful wife whose neighbour Martin – also the film’s narrator – wants to save from a very literary tragic ending when she moves next door in rural Normandy (opens Dec. 5).

I don’t watch a lot of sports movies so I can safely say that Next Goal Wins, an underdog story about how the world’s worst soccer team redeemed themselves, is one of the best I’ve seen. The documentary charts the comeback of a team of amateurs from American Samoa, from a devastating, historic 31-0 loss to Australia. The film gives sports clichés a new spin as the team draws on warrior spirit and the help of a fiery Dutch coach – who is carrying his own burden – to climb out of their hole. It is funny, uplifting and insightful. The one-off screening is hosted by DOXA on December 9 at Cinematheque (

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

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