Journey To The Bottom Of The World: Filmmaker Documents Life In Antarctica

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On Thursday, Oct. 3, Athens residents are invited to take a trip to the bottom of the world. And they don’t even need to leave their seats.

No Horizon Any More, a documentary by Keith Reimink, will be screened during the College Town Film Festival, being held Oct. 2-5 at the Athena Cinema.

Fewer than 2,000 people have spent the austral winter at the South Pole Station. Reimink’s film follows members of the 2009 Winterover crew as they share their views on the interactions, the people, the environment and the science that takes place during a busy year in Antarctica.

WOUB’s Emily Votaw had a chance to talk with Reimink about his experiences filming and living with a small group of people in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, as well as an upcoming project involving the Israel National Trail.

WOUB: How did you find yourself in the South Pole?

Keith Reimink: I had been working as a cook for several years at that point. I would work in Alaska for six months and then I would go somewhere else, living a very seasonal lifestyle. I worked for a couple cruise ships, did some catering in New York City, and the year I was in Alaska, I met a guy who was working down in Antarctica with some scientists. And it just seemed so cool. You know, I didn’t really know that people could do that–I didn’t know there were research bases there. Then he told me he could get me a job there. I got the contact information from him, called up the head chef and got an interview. Within in the next year or so, I had my first season on the ice.

WOUB: How did your first experience on the ice affect you?

KR: There were some positives and negatives. It was a positive experience because I got to do this thing that not a lot of people get to do. There have been less than 2,000 people who have spent the winter at South Pole and they actually number you–you get a personal number. I’m number 1,253. Before me, only 1,252 other people had been able to do that. So that was a very positive experience to be a part of something that small. And to be a part of an organization that puts you down there so you can experience these things. The sun sets one time and it rises one time; it’s light for six months of the year and dark for six months of the year. You get to see the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before. And the southern lights, the aurora Australia, those are just amazing. So there were a lot of positive elements.

It did affect me negatively as well. I gained a lot of weight because we don’t have any fresh food. All we ate was dried fruit and frozen food. You get really pale because there’s no light. You don’t go outside that much and you don’t have interaction with the outside world, or even being outside and getting exercise. And I think psychologically it was difficult because you spend that amount of time in a closed, cramped space with 42 other people. There were 43 people total there for my winter. It was hard to come back to the real world after that year because grocery stores are scary. Cars are scary. And cats and dogs…it sounds really funny, but spend a year without seeing a cat or a dog and it kind of surprises you when you see one again.

WOUB: Do you think the group of people you spent the winter with had different reactions to being there?

KR: Yeah, absolutely. The group of people that I spent my time with, there were nine women and thirty-two men. The oldest person there was in her 60s and one of the younger people there was in her early 20s, so there was a vast age range. There were people from everywhere. Scientists from France, Holland, the UK and Chicago, we had plumbers and doctors–it was a very vast cross-section of the population. They had different reactions. Some people need to be very social and they always need to be hanging out with people. So there were people who would try to start a volleyball game every night or play music or have a movie every night and there were some that really wanted to spend the time by themselves. There were two workers who worked the night shift, so out of the 43 of us, there were only 2 of them that worked during the night, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. I hardly knew them, never hung out with them. I don’t even know their last names, I don’t think. It’s a very weird group of people, but a very fantastic group of people. It’s an interesting thing to be a part of a population like that.

WOUB: What initially attracted you to doing this?

KR: First it was the money, because it’s definitely a way to make a good living. You spend your year or six months working and there is nowhere to spend your money. You can save a lot and plan a really good vacation afterwards. I think the biggest thing that drew me there was the fact that it’s the South Pole. You can’t get farther away from everything. Every direction is north. Once you get there, you have to turn around and go north. And I just thought that would be really cool. Seeing the world from that point of view, you’re on the bottom, you’re in the dark and you’re able to watch everything happen and not be a part of it. It was very interesting. It was definitely because I wanted to do the most extreme thing that I could think of at that time.

WOUB: What was communication with friends and family like while you were working there?

KR: We communicated by satellites, we had Internet and we had telephones, but you could only communicate when the satellites were in certain positions. For example, if you wanted to make a phone call, the call would bounce from the South Pole to the satellite in space to somewhere in America, and you can only do that when the satellite is above you. So, for example, we would have two hours of Internet between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., then the next day from from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and then the following day 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. So it would change every day. If you wanted to send an email or talk to somebody, you might have to get up in the middle of the night because the satellites were only above you when you were sleeping. It did get a little frustrating at times because you have people back home that want to know how you’re doing. They love you and want to know you’re okay, and sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes that’s very hard.

WOUB: Changing topics, but I wanted to ask you about your plan to walk across Israel. What’s happening with that?

KR: I started my own film production company, very small, just me. I am pre-producing a documentary on the Israel National Trail, which is a trail that basically cuts through the center of Israel. So you start walking in the north by Lebanon all the way to the Red Sea. And it came about just by talking to friends. I’ve made a movie, I’ve done some hiking, and I thought to myself “why can’t I combine them and make a cool project?” I’ve got some scholars on board, some people with PhDs on the subject and some historians and others who are looking to help out. The hike itself is going to happen in early 2015, so I have a year to get ready and learn some Hebrew. There’s a non-profit in Israel called the Society for Protection of Nature in and they love the idea. They’re the ones that maintain all the marked trails. If I can make a film about nature and the environment and a little bit about the conflict, and put that through the eyes of a foreign hiker, I think it would be a pretty cool project.

WOUB: What has it been like taking No Horizon Anymore to so many film festivals and sharing such an intimate experience with so many people?

KR: It’s gotten nothing but positive feedback. I think that a lot of people who have watched the film have no concept of what it is like to live in Antarctica. I spent about seven years total in Antarctica, in research stations around the continent, so to be able to talk to people about everything, from the science that happens to the marine life to the communities, it’s very cool to be a liaison for a place as special as Antarctica. I think people are looking at this as a real-life portrayal of Antarctica, more so than the pretty camerawork and images that we see from March of the Penguins, which is all fantastic stuff. But you know, there are people there who live and work and eat and play. It’s a whole community of folks and I think that if the audience can get a sense of who these people are, it would be a complete success. Because they’re working very hard and deserve to have their stories told.

No Horizon Anymore will be screened at the Athena Cinema on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with Keith Reimink and Ohio University professors Ryan Fogt and Annie Howell. For more information about the College Town Film Festival, visit