A report/article taken from the blog of ION from Athens. This is Athens in the times of the crisis, or better to say there is an other Athens in the times of the crisis as well
Several years back a friend of mine, that happens to be a film historian, handed me a dozen of VHS tapes full of early silent films. Among those forgotten gems there was this film narrating, in a very primitive but moving way, the first Antarctica expedition led by the British naval officer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The filmmaker, Herbert Ponting, was the first known British photographer to bring a cinematograph to the Antarctic continent and to take brief sequences of the continent’s birds, seals, penguins and other fauna, as well as the human explorers who were trying to “conquer” the white deserted land for the first time as well as demonstrating the British readiness for sacrifice.
In this “heroic age” of polar exploration, all expeditions took draught animals as aids. On their ships they brought Eskimo huskies and Siberian ponies from the North Pole to the South. On the ice continent there were no draught animals, no polar bears or other mammals. In the race for the South Pole in 1911-12 between Roald Amundsen (the polar expert from Norway who managed to reach first the South Pole) and Captain Scott, no one asked about the how. Questions of style and tricks played no role. All that counted was who reached 90° south first. Amundsen, who had settled for dog sledges, won. He arrived at the Pole with a whole month’s lead because he had solved the transport problem better and his route was shorter.
Scott’s expedition was overburdened. Amundsen wanted to be the first, he wanted the fame. But Captain Scott and his companions wanted to prove something more than geographical facts. As the film shows, they wanted by their mission to show the world that the British were in no way decadent, rather still a “race of heroes” ready to die for “their thing”. Scott wrote in his diary: “The journey has once again shown that Englishmen bear hardship, help one another and can look death bravely in the eye as in the past”.
The first time I saw “The Great White Silence” back in the early nineties I was overwhelmed by this form of self-sacrifice. On the South Pole, I could just imagine the cutting south winds and then Scott’s men as an exhausted bunch of brave men. With only one sledge, four men, among them Scott’s friend Dr. Wilson, they pressed on for the Pole. In spite of everything they reached Captain Scott’s goal on January 1912.
So Captain Scott lost the race for the South Pole. Near the Norwegian flag which fluttered there, Scott placed the Union Jack, but the return march of the demoralized group became a fatal catastrophe. Two of his companions, died on the way. Thirteen kilometers away from the life-saving One-Ton-Depot the theatrical story of British heroism ended on 29 March 1912. Deadly weakened and pinned down by snowstorms, Scott and his two companions could go no further. And no rescue team could reach them. When their frozen bodies were found eight months later, 16 kilos of rock samples were discovered on their sledge, and in the tent.
So, this film, together with my first trip to the Norwegian arctic archipelago in the mid-nineties, were the main influences that led me to build the story behind the “Polar Maps” project, original conceived as «Οι Χάρτες του Ψύχους». Further research and studying made this an on-going work in progress, but never finished. Still in the hundred years in which man has travelled and “exploited” the Antarctic continent, the coastline has suffered badly. The wild, white continent, which was only occupied by people at a few points, remains so, as it had been for millions of years. So long as Antarctica had been terra incognita for mankind, it had been left in peace. And so did the “Polar Maps”.
Nothing has ever made me so curious as the ice desert. Through the years, the more I occupied myself with this unfinished ION project influenced by the polar environments and adventures, the more it became clear to me that the singularity of these places consisted of values which we all had forgotten long ago: stillness, peace, undisturbed vastness.
When the British Film Institute presented last year the restored version of the Herbert Ponting’s film “The Great White Silence” with music by Simon Fisher Turner, I dreamed about doing my own version of soundtrack, combining old and new musical material from my “frozen land” related works, recorded co-ordinates as I call them, that for more than two decades lead me to the “Polar Maps” dream project. Thanks to the Greek Film Center and to Athens Open Air Film Festival this dream of mine became a reality on 6 July 2012. The screening of “The Great White Silence” was accompanied by a live score that consisted of older and newer ION works, all influenced by the vastness of the Antarctic.
Huge thanks to the Orestis, Nickey, Fivos, Orestis, Faidra and the rest of the Cinema Magazine team.
Photos by George Kourmouzas.
Many thanks to all of you who kept me company in this dream adventure.