(2021) Documentary (Moniker) Will Steger, Jean-Louis Etienne, Keizo Funatsu, Geoff Somers, Dr. Victor Boyarsky, Dr. Qin Dahe. Directed by Tasha Van Zandt
In 1989, a multi-national team led by American polar explorer Will Steger and French naturalist Jean-Louis Etienne, determined to make a non-mechanized journey from coast to coast in Antarctica. This meant they crossed on foot or by dog sled, and navigated by sextant. The 220 day expedition covered 3,741 miles through some of the most ferociously inhospitable terrain on the planet. They faced a storm that lasted 40 days (and 40 nights, I assume) that led to near-whiteout conditions. At times, the temperature reached 113 degrees below zero.
The purpose of the trip was to call attention to the polar regions and the effect that changing climactic conditions were having. The scientific data that the team recorded helped climate scientists determine that the ice caps were melting, and that climate change was posing a survival threat to the human race.
Steger has gone on to do other polar expeditions – it is something in his blood, in his nature. Footage of that 1989 trek, a journey that shaped his life. Now in his mid-70s, he decided to make a trek across the Arctic circle by himself to further call attention to the crisis, one which has in many ways largely been ignored in any meaningful way since that first expedition.
This documentary juxtaposes footage from that 1989 expedition – which is simply terrifying – with the gentler footage of Steger’s more recent trek, undertaken 30 years after the first. The idea, I think, is to illustrate how the climate crisis has grown more urgent in the intervening years but the idea backfires as the viewer gets involved more in the adventure aspect of that 1989 expedition which was undertaken in such hazardous conditions, than in the message that Steger himself is trying to deliver. It is truly a vivid illustration of the adage “never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” and the 1989 Trans-Antarctic was a hell of a good story.
The footage – some of it shot by Steger himself – is phenomenal and certainly the movie is worth seeing for that alone; it’s just I think that the important message that is trying to be communicated here gets lost in the sheer magnitude of the courage of those men who undertook the trip, which I think is somewhat ironic. What Steger ends up doing is competing with his younger self for screen attention. That’s never an easy task no matter how important the message.
The film is currently playing the festival circuit and has yet to get distribution. However, don’t be surprised if a documentary-oriented streamer like Discovery Plus, or a program like POV on PBS snaps this one up eventually.
REASONS TO SEE: Beautiful natural footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: The back and forth between the 1989 Trans-Antarctic expedition and Steger’s recent solo expedition robs the film of dramatic tension.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some animal peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steger was 75 years old when he embarked on his final Arctic expedition.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shackleford
FINAL RATING: 6/10
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