The starkly beautiful Antarctic landscape and its remarkable wildlife have been a part of my life now for almost four years. It is a long time to live with a subject - especially when it is as large and wild as the Antarctic. Over the past 25 years I have worked in many remote locations and now that it is almost over I have been thinking about what made Antarctic Mission so different? I think it was a combination of things: the constantly changing panorama of pristine glaciers and aquamarine icebergs; sitting in the midst of hundreds of thousands of goofy, fearless penguins; working with so many dedicated and generous Antarctic researchers; and living for so long with our own expedition team. Also there is large and complex subject of the series – climate change. When we started, climate change was still being hotly debated. That is no longer the case as the great majority of the world's scientists are in agreement that it is happening.
The logistics of shooting in the Antarctic are formidable. We needed to get our team and our ship, SEDNA IV, from Montreal to the other side of the planet - a 25,000-kilometre journey. People would be away from their homes and families for anywhere from five to fourteen months. Once there, it would be almost impossible for them to change their minds and return home earlier than scheduled. We became a new family made-up of sailors, filmmakers, scientists, a cook, captains, an engineer and even a doctor. The Antarctic Mission voyage was divided into several sections with slightly different crews: first SEDNA sailed to the Falkland Islands to pick-up my crew and I (we had already been filming there for a couple of weeks), then it was on to South Georgia where we shot episode one Islands at the Edge. Then it was time to head to Ushuaia, Argentina for a short Christmas break. In January we crossed the infamous Drake Passage and sailed to the Antarctic Peninsula. After 3 months of filming along the Peninsula for episodes two and three, SEDNA was anchored in the Melchior Islands. This was supposed to be her over-wintering site. Episode four, The Last Continent, tells the story of the team's adventures whilst there.
The culture of the Antarctic is one of science and adventure; documentary film is an ideal way to blend them with poetry. Of all of the remote locations that I have filmed in, the isolation of Antarctica presented us with some truly unique logistical challenges. There are international laws governing what you can do in Antarctica (a huge area south of 60 degrees latitude). Today there is almost nowhere where there has never been a war, where the environment is fully protected, and where scientific research has priority. Antarctica is such a place. It still belongs to no one and is protected by the Antarctic Treaty. It came into force on June 23, 1961 after ratification by twelve countries that were the most active in Antarctic scientific research. Canada signed it in 1988. The treaty's goals are simple and unique:
One of my first tasks was to get permission for all of our team and the SEDNA IV to go to the Antarctic. It was a long process that involved many forms and a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of hundreds of pages. The goal is to keep the Antarctic as pristine as possible so we had to show that our impact would be kept to a minimum. We weren't the only ones who had to do this; tourist ships and scientists all have to go through the same formidable process.
It was a privilege to be able to shoot the many extraordinary and detailed sequences that tell the story of the impact of climate change on one of the planet's remotest places. Like many people before me I left a piece of my heart in the Antarctic and I hope that our audiences will feel that and have the same experience when they watch Antarctic Mission.