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Kirk Watson
Kirk Watson

The Only Movie Ever Filmed Entirely in Antarctica

Kirk Watson
Kirk Watson

The key to a good skull-drilling scene, Kirk Watson says, is chopped-up bits of bacon. “You mix it with the fake blood, which is red food coloring, syrup, and flour. That’s for when we had to make brains.”

Watson is an experienced mountaineer who has spent six of the past eight years acting as a field guide for Antarctic scientists, navigating dangerous glaciers and supervising freezing base camps. If he’s looking at brain matter, something has gone horribly wrong. But in 2012, he and colleague Matt Edwards decided to use their free time to shoot a horror film, South of Sanity, while stationed at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica. Though its plot—serial killer picks off hapless researchers at a remote outpost—is mundane, its production was anything but: Sanity is the first horror film ever filmed entirely at the bottom of the world.

After another field guide pulled out of a trip, Watson went to Antarctica on two weeks’ notice, taking his camera equipment and editing software with him. A documentary filmmaker, he had designs on shooting a feature-length movie. Working with Edwards, the two figured the production would be a good way to involve the 21 inhabitants of Rothera—a mix of marine biologists, mechanics, even a chef—in a communal project.

“Come winter, no one is really embarrassed in front of one another anymore,” he says. “I thought I could get some good acting.”

Filming a few days a week over a three-month period, Watson directed 14 amateur performers. While the majority of the movie was shot indoors, he had a few key scenes to shoot in the below-zero temperatures outside of the station. One “dead body” had to be edited out because it kept shivering; another actor grew very agitated because fake blood had leaked into his boot, causing his foot to dampen and freeze up.

“He wanted to go inside,” Watson chuckles, “but I kept doing take after take. He was quite annoyed, but it made his acting a lot better. His foot was supposed to have been chewed up by a snow blower.”

Essentially a one-man crew, Watson had a mechanic build a makeshift crane that could rise 25 feet in the air for more dynamic shots. Surprisingly, the cameras rarely failed despite the climate. “There was sometimes 3mm of ice on them, but they worked brilliantly,” he says. The problem was taking them back inside, where condensation quickly built up: Watson would wrap them in a plastic bin and let the moisture evaporate before resuming filming.  

For the “murders,” arterial spray was accomplished using syringes hooked up to tubing that researchers would operate off-screen. Their make-up department consisted of a face paint kit meant for kids. “You have to make do with what you have,” he says. “I found it quite funny when IMDB.com said our budget was a million dollars.”

Watson edited the film as he went along. It was eventually screened for Rothera Research during their annual film festival. (New arrivals found it fun to watch their co-workers get butchered in creative ways.) Sanity eventually had a premiere in Watson’s hometown in Scotland and a DVD and digital release on Amazon and iTunes stateside. Though reviews were mixed, Watson may have made the best possible film he could given the excruciating circumstances of hypothermic conditions and no budget.

“It’s not a particularly good film,” he says. “But it didn’t cost us a penny.”

All images courtesy of Kirk Watson.

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euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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geography
Mount Jackson Loses Spot as UK's Tallest Mountain After Satellite Reveals Measurement Error
euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Geography textbook writers, take note: The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has just made a major correction to its old data. As Independent reports, satellite imagery reveals that Mount Hope in the British Atlantic Territory is 1236 feet taller than previously believed, unseating Mount Jackson as the UK’s tallest peak.

BAS realized the old height was incorrect after surveying mountains in Britain’s Antarctic territory using satellite technology. Inaccurate measurements pose a threat to planes flying over the mountains, and with the mapping project BAS intended to make the route safer for aircraft.

Prior to the survey, Mount Jackson was thought to be the tallest mountain in the British Atlantic Territory and the greater UK at 10,446 feet, the BBC reports. But after reviewing the new elevation data, BAS found that Mount Hope bests it by just 180 feet. Reaching 10,627 feet at its summit, Mount Hope is officially Britain’s tallest mountain.

Historically, mountains were measured on the ground using basic math equations. By measuring the distance between two points at the base of a mountain and calculating the angle between the top of the mountain and each point, researchers could estimate its height. But this method leaves a lot of room for error, and today surveyors use satellites circling the globe to come up with more precise numbers.

Because they’re both located in Antarctica, neither of the two tallest mountains in the UK is a popular climbing destination. British thrill-seekers usually choose Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, as their bucket-list mountain of choice—but at just 4413 at its highest point, climbing it would be a breeze compared to conquering Mount Hope.

[h/t Independent]

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NASA/Nathan Kurtz
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New Images of the Massive Iceberg That Broke Off From Antarctica This Summer
NASA/Nathan Kurtz
NASA/Nathan Kurtz

This summer, a massive crack finally broke apart Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf, creating one of the world’s largest icebergs, called A-68. NASA has taken plenty of satellite images of the area, but now, thanks to flights by the agency’s Operation IceBridge, we have close-ups too, as The Washington Post reports.

Operation IceBridge is NASA’s project to survey and map the status of polar ice via plane. The project is running several survey missions out of Argentina and from scientific bases at the South Pole this fall, using gravimeters, magnetometers, and other sensors to measure changes in polar ice. They have taken a few flights so far that passed over Larsen C, the most recent leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina, on November 12.

The sheer edge of A-68 leads into blue ocean
The edge of A-68
NASA/Nathan Kurtz

Aerial IceBridge photos taken in the last few weeks show the massive size of the ice shelf and the iceberg it calved this summer. "Most icebergs I have seen appear relatively small and blocky, and the entire part of the berg that rises above the ocean surface is visible at once,” Kathryn Hansen, a member of NASA’s news team, wrote on NASA’s Earth Observatory blog after seeing A-68 for herself on the most recent IceBridge flight. “Not this berg. A-68 is so expansive it appears [as] if it were still part of the ice shelf.”

NASA tweeted out these incredible images from IceBridge's October 31 flight earlier this month.

An aerial photo of an ice shelf and the iceberg it calved
The ice on the left is the Larsen C ice shelf; the right, the western edge of A-68.
NASA/Nathan Kurtz

An aerial view of sea ice, blue water, and the edge of iceberg A68
A view across sea ice toward A-68
NASA/Nathan Kurtz

The November 12 flight was aimed at mapping the bedrock below the polar ice with NASA’s gravimeter, but the scientists still have more research planned. Additional IceBridge flights will be leaving from Antarctica later this month, collecting data with different instruments than the flights that left out of Argentina.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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