As part of the DC Environmental Film Festival on March 25, award-winning journalist, author, and filmmaker Jon Bowermaster screened his latest film Antarctica, On the Edge. Bowermaster has traveled to the frigid, fragile continent a number of times, and is the first to shoot its landscape with 3D camera. In the fall, the movie will be out on the big screen in theaters around the world (including the Hudson Valley), and begin a 10-20 year tour of museums and science institutions around the globe. Chronogram editor Brian K. Mahoney was able to interview the daring filmmaker about his experiences in the southernmost reaches.
I've traveled to Antarctica a couple dozen times since I was first introduced in 1989; my first assignment for National Geographic was to cover a record-setting dogsled expedition that crossed Antarctica in 221 days, covering 3,741 miles. To film this new 3D movie, we sailed to the Antarctic Peninsula from the tip of Argentina on a 74-foot boat, which then served as our shooting platform for a month.
2. You've filmed all the world. Was there anything especially difficult about the weather and terrain in Antarctica?
The tricky thing about working and filming in Antarctica is that no two days--no two hours!--are ever alike. We filmed the 3D movie in January of 2012 and it was a particularly gray and wet month; I've been there in other January's when every day has been blue sky and snow/rain-free. It was also a particularly wind-less month, which meant that lots of the sea ice that freezes each year did not break up and blow out to see, meaning there were lots of places I imagined us stopping to film on shore that we simply couldn't reach because there was a mile to two miles of frozen sea between us and land.
3. What were the logistical challenges of filming in 3D?
This was the first time I'd shot in 3D. I knew it was going to be more difficult, but I thought it might be two or three times more difficult, more time-consuming, that normal shooting. Instead, everything right through post-production, seemed to take 10 times longer. In the field, the two big cameras that create the 3D were kept outside on the deck of the boat the entire trip. If we had brought them in they risked condensation which we'd never be able to dry out. Each morning it would take the director of photography two to three hours to calibrate, his head under a dark cloth as he tinkered. The result was that nothing was shot spontaneously.
4. You've been to Antarctica many times. Are you noticing and changes due to climate change?
One of the primary reasons I wanted to make this film was to be able to talk about how climate change is already changing this continent that we regard as foreboding, remote, frozen. The truth is, along the 900-mile Peninsula where we were summer temperatures have warmed by five to nine degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years, one of the greatest warmings on the planet. Just as we're seeing the Arctic Ocean and Greenland melt and disappear as temperatures warm, the same thing is happening in Antarctica. In the next 50 to 100 years, there will be massive changes along the edges of Antarctica, which will impact the entire planet. It's fascinating for me to be able to go down every year and literally see how the place is changing.
5. What was your big takeaway from making Antarctica, On the Edge?
That my next 3D movie will be set in a warm, tropical location!