Filmmaker Profile: Anne Aghion, ICE PEOPLE

Posted on April 30, 2009

Fascinated by people who survive extreme circumstances, award-winning filmmaker Anne Aghion produced ICE PEOPLE, a feature-length documentary that explores the physical, emotional and spiritual adventure of living and conducting science in Antarctica––the earth’s coldest continent. The film airs on May 5 at 10:00 PM on the Sundance Channel. Anne recently sat down and discussed what led her to this project, the challenges of working in Antarctica and what she hopes viewers will take away from the film.

What led you to make this film? I’d been dreaming of going to Antarctica to make a film for years—almost 13 years to be exact. In 1993, I was in Southern Chile and I was able to get a cheap bunk on a cruise ship that went down there. I spent months after that trip having vivid dreams about the light and the sounds I’d encountered. When I found out about the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, I was thrilled and decided to set about making it happen! 

Did you have any logistical challenges? I can’t remember which of the great explorers of the early 20th century said that once you actually get to Antarctica, the hardest part of the journey is already behind you. In a sense, it’s true. You have to figure out precisely how much your equipment is going to weigh and what the volume of what you’re carrying will be for the helicopter flights within the continent. We were counting lithium batteries and figuring out how much fuel we’d need to run the generator. The trickiest thing to figure out was when I had to fill out the form about how much urine and human waste our crew was going to generate for the seven weeks we were camping in the Dry Valleys. 

What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film? There were many challenges—the cold, the isolation, living in the community in which you’re filming without being able to have any distance. But I’d say the cold —or the idea of the cold—was definitely the hardest challenge we faced. 

Is there any one moment in the film that deeply moved you? I love the opening shots. They draw me in every time and throw me back into the cold and the bizarreness of the place. The last five minutes move me a lot. I’m always on the verge of tears when I watch those images because they conjure up the emotion I had upon leaving the continent. They remind me how much I loved this extraordinary place. 

What do you hope viewers will get out of the film? I hope people will experience the beauty and the extraordinary quality of Antarctica, and that they will look at the earth in a new way. In fact, looking at the earth in a new way is one of the things I came away with myself after spending time down there. Also, I hope I’ve conveyed some of the experience of conducting field science—some of the fun, but also some of the hardships of that quest. 

Can you tell us about your next project? I’ve been working in Rwanda for almost 10 years, and I’ve made a series of films there on the “Gacaca” justice and reconstruction process. I just completed the third film in the trilogy, The Notebooks Of Memory, and a feature-length that covers the whole span of the nine years I spent filming there, entitled My Neighbor My Killer, which I finished last month and which is an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Special Screenings section. So the next few months will be focused on taking that film into the world. I’m also working on a book project with Lars Waldorf, from the University of London, whose point of departure is my Rwanda series. Lars Waldorf has been researching Gacaca in Rwanda for many years. The book will tell the stories of the central characters in my Rwanda films, while also providing readers with the broader context on the genocide and Gacaca. It will also reflect on the role of cinema and visual anthropology in peace-building. ICE PEOPLE is a co-production of ITVS International, Dry Valleys Productions, ARTE France and The Sundance Channel, in association with European Commission – Directorate General for Research. 

ICE PEOPLE airs Tuesday, May 5 at 10:00 PM on the Sundance Channel    

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