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Issue: 7.1: Fall 2008
Guest Edited by Lisa Bloom, Elena Glasberg and Laura Kay
Gender on Ice

Making Ice People

An Interview with Anne Aghion
By Laura Kay

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 time there.

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!

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Ice People seems to be a very different project than your previous films about Nicaragua and Rwanda. Were you looking for a less obviously political subject?

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 Antarctica?

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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© 2008 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 7.1: Fall 2008 - Gender on Ice