Propelled by the onset of tiny, non-invasive HD cameras, the nature documentary is enjoying a popular resurgence, resulting in the improbable hipness of films like March of the Penguins and stoner TV favorites like Blue Planet and Planet Earth. As society increasingly indulges its voyeuristic love affair with reality television, seemingly captivated by every banal moment in the lives of people of varying intelligence and sincerity, the popularity of the traditional nature film feels almost like pushback; the result of an equal and opposite desire to capture the world without human imprint. The Antarctic landscape feeds that desire perfectly—it’s an isolated, still-wild backdrop to only a few blubbery animals and even fewer people.
Images from the Antarctic have long been a source of fascination, from the photographs of Frank Hurley, who documented Ernest Shackleton’s voyage back in the early 1900s, to recent films such as Werner Herzog’s documentary Encounters at the End of the World and even Alien vs. Predator. Anne Aghion’s Ice People joins the ranks of docs set in the region, but focuses, as the title suggests, on the individuals living rather than the place itself, gently reminding us of the quotidian amidst the impossible splendor of the scenery—that there are average humans leading something approaching normal lives in this extreme environment. In a way, this is a return to the original subject of public interest in Antarctic expeditions: the exploits of the brave men and women who threw themselves into such hostile landscapes, and the narrative of the expedition itself. Now we consider such people scientists of various stripes, but back during the “Age of Heroic Exploration,” they were called adventurers. Click here to read the rest of Farihah Zaman’s review of Ice People.