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The People of the Ice

Desiree Cooper

Marc Sanchez

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The Hike to Work
(Courtesy Dry Valleys Productions)
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Anne Aghion: I went with a crew - there were three of us. We were there for four months. We landed there, in McMurdo, and it was very, very cold. It was still the winter. So we had, maybe four hours of dusty sunlight every day, and we gained a half hour of daylight every day that went by.

Desiree Cooper: What's McMurdo like?

It was a wild experience. It's pre-fab buildings, and a lot of wires, and it smells like diesel.

So you arrived fully prepared for what you think you're going to need to make a film about these people. What surprised you most? What were you not prepared for?

You're not prepared for the idea that you're so remotely away from the world. The idea that you're closed in and there's nowhere to go. And the cold, the beauty, the scale of things is unbelievable. Everything is way bigger than you ever imagined.

About a week after we arrived, we went to survival school. And, it was September 1st. It was the coldest time they had ever done this. It was minus 50 or minus 60, or something like that, and you're thinking, "What am I doing here exactly - camping in minus 60 degrees." But you know that it's only one night and you're going to go back to the warmth of your dorm. And then, a couple of months later we went into the field - into the dry valleys. And you're like, "Wait a minute. I was getting used to things before, and now I'm in minus 25. I'm going to be in minus 25 for seven weeks. How am I going to do this?"

How did you go through that?

Well, the first couple of weeks were brutal, and the idea that I had to make a film in this environment was crazy. We would get our cameras ready, and it would take us maybe two or three hours to get ready. By the time we would get to wherever we were going, which was maybe 500 yards away. We'd try to push the button to record something, and the batteries were dead. It was just non-stop.

So, are you cold all the time?

Yeah, at the beginning you're cold all the time. And you have to keep moving; otherwise, your toes get cold and your fingers get cold.

So how do you sleep?

Well, you fill bottles with hot water at night. You put them in a sock, so that you put one at your feet and one between your legs, closer to your core. And, very often, I would wake up around two in the morning, or something like that, and have a piece of chocolate. It's like instant fuel.

Your body must be just working overtime just trying to keep warm.

Yes. You drink enormous amounts. You eat enormous amounts. And, the other thing you have to do is pee, because you need to get rid of that liquid.

Did you have a flap in your snow suit or something?


How complicated could that be?

Complicated. I had a little funnel that allowed me to pee like a guy. And, I peed into a bottle, because we were in a very fragile environment. Anything that comes in has to go out.

That sounds like such a stressful life. How did you deal with that stress?

You know, for me it was extraordinarily peaceful. Yes, it's stressful on the body, but it was very peaceful: this limitation of choices. The idea that you're there and you're doing what you're doing, and you have to make sure that you don't break a leg, and you keep warm, and that you make your film.

Well Anne, thank you for sharing your experience with us. We look forward to the film.

Well thank you.

  • Music Bridge:
    A Change In Fortunes
    Artist: Human Bell
    CD: Human Bell (Thrill Jockey)


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