Film ‘Arctic’ Shot on an Icelandic Glacier

Mads Mikkelsen as Overgård, trekking across an Icelandic glacier (Source: Armory Films).

The endless expanse of white snow atop a glacier, framed by Icelandic mountains, served as the set for the new movie “Arctic,” which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in France. The film, a solo-survival thriller shot in 2017, is director and screenwriter Joe Penna’s feature film debut.

The only survivor of a plane crash in the highlands of Iceland, researcher and explorer Overgård must brave the frigid environment during his decision to either stay with the relative safety of the plane wreckage or venture into the unknown in search of help.

“Arctic” is the man versus nature genre in its purest form, with the story and imagery speaking in place of the film’s lack of dialogue. Mads Mikkelsen, who portrays Overgård, told Variety that the landscape “is the main character in many ways.”

The environment is more than just visually striking, as its physical challenges are not an easy hurdle. About 11 percent of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and the winter temperatures average around 14 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop well into the negatives. This climate, paired with sustained high winds made for a difficult shoot, but an intense portrayal.

Mads Mikkelsen (left) and Joe Penna (right) on the set of “Arctic” (Source: Armory Films).

Despite these challenges, Penna maintains that “the tundra is the precise place where ‘Arctic’ was to be shot— the harshest environment on Earth.”

The juxtaposition of a solitary human against the vastness of the Arctic allows the courage and determination of Overgård to shine through.

“Nothing represents as much the fragility of a human as the sight of a simple silhouette crossing an endless sea of snow,” he states. This scene, shot from above, specifically proved difficult when shooting in a snow-covered landscape. “With virgin snow everywhere you look, it was difficult to manage the sets so that they do not look like a construction site where 30 people came and went,” stated director of photography Tómas Örn Tómasson.

With winds 30 to 40 knots throughout the 20-day winter shoot, continuity was difficult with the weather in Iceland’s highlands, where the largest ice caps are located.

“Throughout the filming, weather conditions changed every hour, destroying the continuity of our catch,” said Penna in an interview.

The film, with a 97-minute run-time, was a “Golden Camera” nominee at Cannes. It claimed one of the midnight showings where it received an extended standing ovation. Reviews overall have been favorable. It received a 7.3 out of 10 on IMDB and a 100 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes by critics.

Director Joe Penna on the set of “Arctic” (Source: Armory Films).

The film will be released in the United States in 2019 by studio Bleeker Street where a wider audience will have the chance to witness the frozen, glacial world of “Arctic.”

Penna encourages the audience to “admire our main character’s silent performance,” which allows them to “take something different away from the film than the person sitting next to [them] in the theatre.”

Glaciers are an excellent way to achieve this effect, and filmmakers have taken notice of glacial settings for many years. Glaciers are able to stimulate the imagination of all those involved by providing a truly unique and striking environment sure to capture the attention of the audience.

Check out the first clip from the film below!


James Balog: Breathing Life Into Ice

James Balog. © James Balog
James Balog. © James Balog

For more than 30 years, James Balog, an American photographer, has devoted himself to merging insights from art and science to create innovative and vivid interpretations of our changing world. His photographic interests are diverse, including endangered animals, North America’s old-growth forests, and polar ice.

In 2007, Balog initiated a long-term photography project, called the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), which offers visual evidence of the Earth’s changing ecosystems. On the one hand, EIS is a substantial portfolio that documents the beauty and architecture of ice. On the other hand, it is time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss. So far, 41 solar-powered cameras have been deployed at 23 glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Austria, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. The glaciers are recorded every 30 minutes, year round, during daylight. The time-lapse images are then edited into videos that unveil an incremental record of climate change.

National Geographic magazine showcased the Extreme Ice Survey project in June 2007 and June 2010. The project is also featured in the renowned documentary, Chasing Ice, which won an award for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as the 2014 News and Documentary Emmy award for Outstanding Nature Programming. The film has screened in more than 172 countries and on all 7 continents.

As a kind of companion piece to his documentary project, Balog published the book, ICE: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, in 2012. A review from Book News says, “Photographs…strike the eye with such power, and appeal with such subtlety, that viewers could scarcely imagine such epic materials and landscapes could disappear. General readers, artists, nature or geology fans, people who live or play in winter landscapes, and photographers, regardless of scientific or political bent, will all value this book.”

Balog is also the founder of the Earth Vision Institute (EVT), a non-profit organization dedicated to creating, publishing, and sharing “visual voices” to educate people about the impacts of climate change. (It was initially named the Earth Vision Trust, but Balog changed the name on January 1, 2015.) The Institute’s most recent project was “Getting The Picture: Our Changing Climate,” an innovative online multimedia tool for climate education, which synchronized art, science, and adventure. People of all ages can take advantage of this free interactive educational tool to gain a fresh perspective on the changing climate.

The glaciers win in “Snowpiercer”, but at what cost?

Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in "Snowpiercer". (© 2013 - RADiUS/TWC)
Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in “Snowpiercer”. (© 2013 – RADiUS/TWC)

Remember when Godzilla used to be scary?

Climate change horror seems to be the new go-to disaster for Hollywood films as of late. Unlike giant floods, tornados or even Godzilla, the world freezing over affects everyone at once. There might be an escape from a giant atomic lizard, but when the temperatures change, there’s nothing we can do as a species but adapt.

That adaptation comes in the form of a speeding, circumnavigating train in the new movie Snowpiercer. The exposition in the opening minutes of the movie sets up the scenario: to counteract warming global temperatures, scientists in the present day developed a chemical that will cool the earth when released into the atmosphere. It worked a little too well.

What’s left of humanity is stuffed into a train, divided so neatly into class sections it would make a political science sophomore blush. The poor are crammed into industrialized bunk beds in the tail section while the rich at the front of the train enjoy saunas, sushi and never-ending raves. After spending 17 years in the squalid back of the train eating gelatinous black protein blocks, Curtis, the film’s lead (Captain America‘s Chris Evans), reluctantly leads an uprising to take over the engine.

What’s interesting about Snowpiercer isn’t so much the setting but that climate change horror seemed to be playing a larger role in movies right now. As New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote about the Snowpiercer, “The current designers of awe, in Hollywood and elsewhere, have gone back to the Apocalypse. They’ve created what might be called the Seven Horsemen of the Multiplex: aliens, pandemics, floods, ice, comets and other interplanetary flotsam, nuclear war, and zombies.”

That fourth one, ice, popped up in last year’s The Colony, which imagines humanity living underground after the world freezes over once climate-changing weather machines break down. In both films, the fear seems to come from geoenginnering gone wrong as much as it does from a permanent Ice Age. (In some sense, this is also what the mega-hit Frozen is about.)
On location at the Hintertux glacier in Austria. (from left) TJ Park (Producer), Sung Ho Nam (Production Manager), Dooho Choi (Co-Producer), Alex Hong (DoP), Thomas Fuchs (Cine Tirol), Bong Joon-Ho (Director), Robert Bernacchi (Co-Producer). (Cine Tirol Film Commission)

In an odd way, Snowpiercer highlights the seriousness of glacial retreat; only a cosmically huge event is capable of bringing them back. One scene in the movie features a shot of the Hintertux glacier in the Tyrolean Alps of Austria. Though the movie takes place in 2031, the glacier will almost certainly be visibly smaller by time that year actually rolls around.

Over Independence Day weekend, Snowpiercer only took in a little over a million dollars at the box office. In South Korea, where it was co-produced, the movie made nearly $60 million, setting a new record in that country. This was the first English-language production for Snowpiercer‘s director, Joon-ho Bong, whose monster movie The Host achieved popularity in the U.S. when it was released in 2006.

Whether the most expensive Korean movie ever made finds popularity here in America (which accounts for only 2 percent of worldwide box office receipts so far), remains to be seen. Audiences may instead choose to find comfort this summer in a much more comforting disaster from the east: Godzilla.

Climate change horror at the center of “Blood Glacier”
Scientists make a shocking discovery in the Alps in the Austrian horror movie “Blood Glacier” (IFC Midnight)

At a remote climate change monitoring station high in the Austrian Alps, a group of climate scientists discovered a glacier oozing blood. This blood is highly mutagenic, transforming the creatures that come into contact with it into aggressive, terrifying monsters.

“Blood Glacier”, an Austrian horror film, begins with the not-so-farfetched premise that melting glaciers will cause massive changes in the ecosystem. Shot on location in Italy’s South Tyrolean Alps, the movie takes a page from John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” in which a group of scientists in a remote, icy outpost awaken an otherworldly horror that picks them off one by one.

This is the basic plot of “Blood Glacier,” a movie that on one hand can be seen as a straightforward monster flick, and can be interpreted as a metaphor for the unknown, scary future we face with a changing climate on the other hand. Monster movies have often dealt with human fears of the unknown, and anxieties about meddling with nature (Godzilla, anyone?).

The killer blood at this melting glacier seems to be Mother Nature retaliating against humanity for threatening her. The metaphor is a bit sloppy, but “Blood Glacier” is definitely an early example of a horror movie about climate change.

“Blood Glacier” is available on iTunes and IFC Films on demand.


Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers

Snows of the Nile

Glaciers are melting everywhere, but none so much as the rare equatorial ones that lie on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in east Africa.

The new documentary Snows of the Nile follows Neil Losin and Nate Dappen, two scientists and photographers whose ambitious expedition is to return to the original sites documented in  historical glacier photographs from the Uganda’s glaciers, the Rwenzoris. Retracing the steps of the Duke of Abruzzi’s legendary 1906 ascent, the images bear witness to a century of climate change. Losin and Dappen, who won a “Stay Thirsty Grant” from Dos Equis (yes, the beer), produced, filmed and edited the documentary.

Uganda’s glaciers, at the heart of Africa, are expected to completely disappear in a decade or two. The Bakonjo people call the Rwenzoris home. They rely on the glaciers not only as a source for water but also as an attraction that generates tourism revenue. Rapid deglaciation results in reduced access to water in rural areas. Women now have to walk longer distances to get water from rivers, lakes and wells, and there is no guarantee that the new sources of water are as clean as the glacial meltwater. Moreover, reduced water availability deepens frequent and prolonged droughts; food security is affected, as rural farmers heavily depend on rain for their crops. Deglaciation also results in a decline of mountain tourism, which leads men to travel long distances in the search for jobs. Moreover, the receding glaciers now contribute less to water flow in the Nyamwamba River, leading to noticeable declines in hydroelectric power.

A group of researchers from a Ugandan university and international organizations just returning from the Rwenzories have predicted the glaciers there may cease to exist in two decades, possibly as early as the mid-2020s, following an expedition to the mountains named the Doomed Glaciers of Africa expedition. Studies have shown that from 1906 to 2003, the area covered by glaciers has reduced from 7.5 square kilometers to less than 1 square kilometer -a small fraction of the original area.

Snows of the Nile and the researchers highlight the fragility of an equatorial glacier, in which all the ice in an the entire mountain range is disappearing. As is the case around the world, the future of the communities who rely on the glacial melt remains uncertain.

Snows of the Nile is available on iTunes and Vimeo.