The Cinematic Race to the South Pole, BFI Southbank, March 2012

The Great White Silence (1924)
The Great White Silence (1924)

Spring 2012 marks a couple of grisly, yet hugely significant centenaries. The Titanic sank on 15 April 1912 (more of which in forthcoming posts) and on 29 March 1912 or thereabouts, Robert Falcon Scott succumbed to cold and starvation and died a few miles from the South Pole.

The story of Scott and his crew’s tragic expedition has been told many times, but nowhere more movingly than in The Great White Silence (1924), Herbert Ponting’s silent documentary that was rereleased theatrically last year.

To commemorate the centenary, the BFI has scheduled three special screenings of documentary material relation to Antarctic exploration, each pegged to an individual explorer. You’ll probably be familiar with The Great White Silence by now, but if you haven’t seen it yet (or bought it on DVD/Blu-Ray), this is a fantastic opportunity to see it on the big screen. The Ernest Shackleton film South is a marvellous companion to The Great White Silence, with fantastic photography from Frank Hurley. It was also recently restored by the BFI and released on DVD. The footage of Roald Amundsen’s rather more successful voyage is less widely seen and promises to be fascinating.

Race to the South Pole: Amundsen and the Others

Our first programme focuses on Roald Amundsen and the little-seen film Roald Amundsens Sydpolsferd (1910-12), restored by the Norwegian Film Institute and here playing in context with a selection of surviving fragments from films of the expeditions of William Speirs Bruce in 1902-4 (The Scottish Antarctic Expedition), Shackleton in 1908-9 (Departure of the British Antarctic Expedition from Lyttelton, NZ 1st Jan 1908), the Japanese Shirase in 1911 (Nihon Nankyoku Tanken), and a work in progress to recreate cinematographer Frank Hurley’s original lecture on the Mawson Australian Antarctic Expedition 1910-12.

With introduction by Bryony Dixon and live piano accompaniment.

Race to the South Pole: Amundsen and the Others screens at NFT3 at 6.20pm on 14 March 2012. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

Race to the North Pole: Scott

Memorial Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Antarctic Heroes (Pathé Animated Gazette, UK 1913, 1min) + Captain Scott and Dr Wilson with ‘Nobby’ the Pony (Gaumont Graphic, UK 1912, 1min) + Cardiff: The Ship ‘Terra Nova’ Leaving Harbour Towards the South Pole (Pathé Animated Gazette, UK 1912, 1min) + The Great White Silence (UK 1924, dir Herbert Ponting, 106min. Digital)

To commemorate the centenary of the death of Scott and his companions we present Herbert Ponting’s moving tribute The Great White Silence (1924), together with newsreels of the time showing how contemporary audiences followed the momentous news from the planet’s last unexplored continent.

Introduced by Bryony Dixon

Race to the South Pole: Scott screens at NFT3 at 6.30pm on 21 March 2012. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

Race to the South Pole: Shackleton

South – Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (UK 1919, dir Frank Hurley, 72min) + El Homenaje del Uruguay a los Restos de Sir Ernest Shackleton (Uruguay 1922, dir Henry Maurice, 10min, Spanish intertitles) + Southward on the ‘Quest’ (UK 1922, extract, c5min).

Of all the heroic age Antarctic explorers, Shackleton seems to have the most enduring popular appeal. Almost nothing of the film from the Nimrod expedition which inspired Scott and Amundsen seems to survive, but we do have Frank Hurley’s extraordinary document South (1919) which we will be showing with rare footage of Shackleton’s last expedition and the huge crowds gathered for his lying in state in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Introduced by Bryony Dixon. Live piano accompaniment.

Race to the South Pole: Shackleton screens at NFT3 at 8.40pm on 22 March 2012. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

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