A film festival in Antarctica

In this time of effort to slow down the spread of Covid-19, in which most of the European population has to confine themselves in their homes, I would like to share a story from my winter over in Antarctica. My name is Alfonso Ferrone and I spent one year in Concordia, a relatively small French-Italian scientific base in the Antarctic plateau, at more than 1000 km from the coast and 3000 m above sea level, together with a crew of thirteen fellow scientists and technicians. In central Antarctica, seasons are different from mid-latitudes regions, and winter there means three months of complete darkness. Due to extreme temperatures, which would reach up to -82.9° C in this period, we couldn’t go further than 1 km away from the station. You may be wondering how a small community passes their free time in these particular conditions. Of course, a lot of movies and video games occupied our evenings, but there is a particular event that I want to share with you, and that constituted the highlight of our long night.

Every year, every wintering base can participate in a film festival, in which short movies of about 5 minutes compete in two categories: the first one, called “open category” is completely free in topic. The other must be done in 48 hours and must contain five clues, provided to the participants at the beginning of the filming period. Our crew participated in both, but the one that united our small community for the longest period was the former. It all started with the cook who wrote some lyrics for a song that comprised some funny anecdotes and jokes that we shared in the first five months of our stay. We were lucky to count some musicians among us: the medical doctor was playing the bass, our plumber the guitar, the station leader the drums, our telescope expert the keyboards, and the main vocalist was the cook, joined for the chorus by the doctor from ESA and a glaciologist. Although we took inspiration from the song Rosana by Wax, the arrangement was a collaborative effort from this improvised band. We then decided to film a music video of sorts, with every member of the crew acting in it. That came with some challenges of course: we had to deal with everyone’s differing schedules and abilities, and overall the process of filming took almost three months. It was particularly funny to dress up in the weirdest way: we even had a gorilla costume! We even filmed some scenes outside, with the cold limiting the battery life our camera of a few minutes! I myself was the editor, and that was quite a difficult task considering the heterogeneous nature of the clips that we filmed…

At the end of the day, our efforts were rewarded, as we won the “Best movie” award in the open category. But looking back, I would say that the best outcome was the strengthening of our community, the fun moments that we shared for a common goal. Although the result is still very amateur-like, we were proud of our achievement as a group. Even with limited means, and in the confined environment of a scientific base, we found our entertainment in a creative project, that gave us a sense of accomplishment.

If you’re curious to watch our short film, you can find it at https://vimeo.com/228328151

Written by Alfonso Ferrone