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The Great White Silence by Gemma Starkey
Introduction About the Film A New Score Distributing the Film    
About The Great White Silence

"The Antarctic Continent is an ice-clad wilderness of dazzling whiteness and appalling silence. It is the home of Nature in her most savage and merciless moods and it is there that the hurricane and the blizzard are born."

So begins Herbert Ponting's astonishing film of Captain Scott's epic expedition to the South Pole. Not only do these powerful opening lines evocatively set the scene for The Great White Silence, they also lay the foundation for its tragic conclusion.

In July 1910 the expedition team left Cardiff's Bute Docks for the long voyage south on board the Terra Nova. The moment was recorded by the newsreel Pathé's Animated Gazette, who would go on to film, some three years later, the polar party's memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral. Hopes for Scott's mission were understandably high, buoyed by Shackleton's recent success in reaching the world's most southerly point the year before, and Scott himself was still unaware that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, was also on his way to Antarctica with his eye on the polar prize.

The Great White Silence is remarkable for many reasons, not least its very existence: for the inclusion of an official cameraman in the polar team was itself visionary for the time. From the journey south, the scientific work, life in the camp, the local wildlife, to the preparations for the trek to the Pole, Herbert Ponting filmed almost every aspect of the expedition with great skill, vision and humour.

Even those things Ponting was unable to film, notably the final journey to the Pole itself, he imaginatively recreated back home using models and stop-motion photography. Later he also added maps, plans and titles to help define the narrative structure, along with beautiful tints and tones intended to suggest different lighting effects. These give the landscape an ethereal quality, which seems fitting with the remote other-worldliness of Antarctica as well as the experimental nature of Ponting's film itself.

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In this short film the BFI's Curator of Silent Film, Bryony Dixon explains why the film is considered to be such an important cultural icon, and provides some background on who Herbert Ponting was.

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Bryony describes why Herbert Ponting created The Great White Silence, as well as how the BFI reconstructed and restored the film.

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