In This Issue....
Secrets of Antarctica
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
This is a collection of four episodes produced with the assistance of the British Antarctic Survey. Part One is a twenty-three minute artful blend of then and now, describing the inception of Operation Tabarin in 1944 and Great Britain's permanent presence in Antarctica, the construction of Port Lockroy and its subsequent abandonment and then meticulous restoration. This history is told by people who were there at the time and experienced both the beauty and savagery of the environment. Tales of pigs and penguins are revealed. There is footage of life as it was back in the mid-twentieth century as well as day-to-day activities in modern times, where Port Lockroy is kept in unspoiled condition and enjoyed by ten thousand visitors annually. (Because of this high visibility, Port Lockroy has been suggested as the site for the planned monument to the British Antarctic Huskies.)
According to the Antarctic Treaty, all bases were to be either restored and maintained or entirely dismantled, returning the land to pristine wilderness. The second twenty-three minute segment describes the removal of three abandoned bases. The team members agonize over what artifacts are worth keeping and what must be relegated to garbage. An entire hut is emptied out and its contents sorted through before the building itself is disassembled with a huge chainsaw and small crane, but not before every bit of fifty-year-old asbestos and peeling lead-based paint is meticulously removed. All evidence of human presence is obliterated, save for a memorial plaque, in a mere three-and-a-half days! At another abandoned base, the fuselage of an historic de Havilland Otter aircraft is pushed, pulled, dragged and carried from its hanger, down a rocky beach and hoisted precariously onto the landing craft from which it is lifted into the hold of the icebreaker Ernest Shackleton. Included in the episode is more dignified footage of the old plane seen in action in better days. There are also brief but delicious moments of dog sledging from fifty years ago!
Part Three, also twenty-three minutes long, is devoted to the study of climate change. Much of the footage is taken at Rothera Base, the British Antarctic Survey's principal scientific venue in Antarctica. There is some spectacular footage taken deep within a glacial crevasse, similar to those serving as the icy tombs of brave men and dogs who traversed the continent and perished in service to their country. Scientists are also seen taking meteorological measurements, collecting and studying plant development and species distribution, and examining and tagging sea life.
Part Four is the real reason Secrets of Antarctica is reviewed in The Fan Hitch and why this DVD is a must-have addition to every ISD enthusiast's collection. Sub-titled "Dog-Sledging in Antarctica", this digitization of all original footage shot in December 1957, is the work of the late FIDS doggy man, Angus Erskine. In his how-to training film, Erskine first describes the use of dogs as "the oldest, most reliable, cheapest and most enjoyable form of polar transport." He packs a lot of information and insight into 27 minutes, beginning with an introduction to each dog on his team, and then proceeding to an overview of husky temperament, with footage of a nine-dog "punch-up" and how to put an end to it. Erskine goes on to describe in great detail trace (tug line) construction and configuration, harnessing dogs and the anatomy and loading of the Nansen sledge. "Look after your sledge as carefully as a sports car," he advises. Some of the additional footage includes picketing and feeding the dogs, rough sledging up steep grades and hair-raising scenes of plummeting down them. "Dog-Sledging in Antarctica" is a treasure of remarkable clarity, detail and continuity and alone is worth the price of the entire video.
Secrets of Antarctica is available as a DVD in either PAL (European) or NTSC (North American) format. Included is a booklet describing each of the four episodes, some lovely photos - including one of a dog team, and a map to help the viewer follow the action. The cost is £15 plus shipping; payment by check (in British pounds only), credit or debit card. To determine exact shipping costs and to order your copy, email Christina Chatzela at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 00441223 221640.