That year "Freddy Mercury" ruled Antarctica | Polar Jobs

That year “Freddy Mercury” ruled Antarctica

Heiner Kubny | 20 February 2024

It may still be six months until Wiffa, but it’s never too early to start preparing for Antarctica’s cultural (and perhaps mental-health) event of the year

Can’t go on living with you

(Originally published by Polar Journal on 31 Aug 2022)

Think of a scientist, and a person in white overalls sitting behind a microscope or fiddling with technical equipment probably comes to mind. Or perhaps you’ll see someone tabulating statistics or presenting results that ordinary people will find hard to understand.

Kudos, then, to the scientists and technical staff of Concordia Station, a French-Italian base in Antarctica—and indeed all of the entrants in the Winter International Film Festival of Antarctica—for showing just how far off the mark stereotypes can be.

Concordia Station’s notion-busting achievement is its adaptation of the 1984 Queen super hit “I want to break free”, “I Want to Break Free from Concordia Station“. It emerged as the winner in this year’s Open category of the Winter International Film Festival of Antarctica (Wiffa for short) and also picked up all the special prizes—that is to say: best film, best actor, best actress, best costumes, best sound, best cinematography and best editing.

Now a much anticipated annual event for those overwintering in Antarctica or a sub-Antarctic territory, Wiffa began in 2006, when personnel at McMurdo Station and Scott Base, two American installations, competed between themselves. By 2008, eight stations were participating. Today, 48 stations are eligible to submit an original five-minute film.

French-Antarctic acting at its finest: the submission by France’s Crozet Islands, “Please draw me a penguin”, received the award for best actor in the 48 Hour Challenge

Production usually takes place during the first week of August (in the depths of the austral winter) and films may be submitted in one of two categories:

  • 48 Hour Challenge: on the day the contest begins, participating stations receive a list of five elements that must be included in the film. The film must then be ready for screening 48 hours later
  • Open: all topics are allowed, and footage may be filmed throughout the year, but it may not shown publicly prior to the festival

The five elements that must be included in films submitted in the 48 Hour Challenge are usually represented by a sound, an object, a character, an action and a quote. Five bases then select a specific element within each of these general themes that must be represented in the film (for example, the sound could be an animal, the object could be a bottle etc).

Once the films are submitted, they are broadcast and screened by all participating bases. Each base casts a vote to determine the best film in both categories as well as for the special prizes.

Victory brings no statuette or other form of accolade, only bragging rights and the thrill of victory.

But even those may be secondary for those who enter. As the organisers put it: “The festival’s importance probably lies more in the chance given to the wintering crews to create moments of social aggregation not only within their base, but also with other stations, amplifying the meaning of internationality and multiculturalism inherent in the Antarctic Treaty and temporarily relieving the isolation in the most hostile place on earth. Thus Antarctica becomes a place not only for scientific but also for human research.”

Spoken like a true artist—and scientist.

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