Making Ice People
This interview was conducted over email on July 31, 2008.
Tell us something about your experience at Barnard. How did you
end up majoring in Arabic?
I grew up in Paris. After finishing high school, I spent two years
working all sorts of different jobs at newspapers and radio stations. I
decided to go to New York for college, and applied just to Barnard. I
wanted to be in New York and nowhere else, and the idea of going to an
all women's school was very exotic to me. Also, my father had studied at
Columbia as a Fulbright student just after the war and he had loved his
Once I got accepted into school, I decided I had to study something I
wouldn't be able to learn by myself. Subjects like history and
anthropology were out of the picture because I felt, maybe wrongly, that
I could read books and learn these things on my own. So I was
considering Japanese, or Chinese, or Arabic or maybe Russian. At the
time I was very attracted to the Arab world—my father's family was
originally from Alexandria, and growing up in Paris, I was always
surrounded by a lot of people who spoke Arabic. So that's how I made up
my mind! I then went on to live in Cairo for a couple of years, and even
though my Arabic is very rusty, I can still get around.
What made you decide to do a film about Antarctica?
In the early nineties, I was in Santiago de Chile to film an event.
I've always been drawn to the ends of the world, so after we finished I
decided to go south. I took a bus all the way down to Punta Arenas, and
by then I was so close that I was determined to get to Antarctica. After
some unsuccessful attempts to secure a flight with the Chilean Air
Force, I found a cheap bunk on the very first tourist ship of the
season. There were five scientists from the Scott Polar Research
Institute on the ship who were hitching a ride to spend the summer doing
research on Cuverville Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. They had a
couple of tons of gear, for camping etc., and I filmed the day they
disembarked. I remember thinking at the time that one day I'd like to
make a film about Antarctica.
Cut to almost ten years later. I had read Sara Wheeler's book,
Terra Incognita, about her travels in the area. I had just
finished my second Rwanda film (I've made two films on the post-genocide
justice and reconstruction process in Rwanda, the second of which won an
Emmy in 2005, and I'm at work on a third and final film in the trilogy),
and was wondering what was going to be next, when I found out about the
National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.
That was four years ago!
Ice People seems to be a very different project than your previous
films about Nicaragua and Rwanda. Were you looking for a less obviously
You know, I never really know ahead of time exactly what I'm doing or
why; I just click and become attracted and then I'm drawn in. It's only
after the fact, in retrospect, that I understand the motivation. I am
realizing that a lot of the work I do as a filmmaker is therapeutic;
it's about living my life in a way that feels both content but also
feels that I am contributing. So in retrospect, aside from the
attraction, I think I wanted to clear my head and take new energy to be
able to finish the Rwanda project.
Colonialism (and imperialism) were part of the historical story of
Rwanda and Nicaragua. Did you have any sense of these at play in
This is absolutely not in the film, but in a way, I'd say yes. Even
though this does not involve people because Antarctica has no native
population, and colonialism was all about taking over not just land but
the people who inhabit this land, Antarctica is one of these places on
earth that man wants to control and inhabit and take over.
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