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12 August 2016

The Best Polar Documentaries of All Time

With the heatwave forecast to be hitting the UK, what better way to keep your cool than by catching an ice-cold documentary? Featuring scenes of polar exploration, mind-blowing footage of wild animals, a good dose of environmentalism and, of course, adorable fluffy penguins.

We’ve put together a list of the greats, old and new, so you can get comfortable, whack on the air con and enjoy.

Narrator: David Attenborough

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No nature documentary list is complete without a dash of David. His soothing tones will lull you and the variety of the footage is outstanding. Filmed in locations across the world, the seven episode series was co-produced by the BBC and The Open University, and made by a huge team of directors, natural photography experts, explorers, advising professors and researchers. 

The final episode ‘On Thin Ice’ tackles some of the realities of global warming, and what the consequences hold for the coldest parts of our planet. The effect on the habitats of polar bears and Adelie penguins are explored in particular, as well as how the Inuit people are having to adapt to climate change.   

BLACK ICE (2014)
Director: Maarten van Rouveroy

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This poignant film tells the true story of the Greenpeace ship Artic Sunrise, which set sail in 2013 to protest drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. To the shock of the crew, their protest ignited an international dispute when they were arrested by Russian special forces at gunpoint.

Making headlines worldwide, the ‘Arctic 30’ became political prisoners, accused of piracy and hooliganism, and facing up to 15 years in prison. This dramatic tale of scandal and suspense is not to be missed.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty

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Jumping back to the 20s, this is a seminal work in the history of natural documentaries, which follows the life of an Eskimo family in Northern Quebec. It played a remarkable role in bringing images of the Inuk clan’s remote existence to many who had no awareness of the culture. While Flaherty was accused of staging scenes and misrepresenting some details, his silent picture remains a ground-breaking moment in film.

Director: Jeff Orlowski

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This moving film boasts an array of awards, including an Emmy from 2014, and centres around James Balog’s experience photographing the Arctic to raise awareness of the melting glaciers. Balog and his team began what they call ‘The Extreme Ice Survey’, compiling time-lapse footage of the vanishing Arctic. Chasing Ice depicts their perilous journey to publicize the visible effects of climate change in recent years. 

Director: Anthony Powell

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This multi-award winning documentary plunges the viewer into the world of those who live and work in Antarctic research bases, all year round. It takes you through the light-filled summer months, during which the sun shines 24 hours a day, and into the seemingly endless darkness of winter.

Set in the Ross Island region of Antarctica, there is a focus on the people who keep the US McMurdo Station and New Zealand’s Scott’s Base running, as well as on the scientists who carry out their essential research. There is much to be done to maintain the bases: a cook, a mechanic, an accountant, a storekeeper, a fireman and a pilot are among those interviewed in this stunning film.

Director: Luc Jacquet

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A team of French filmmakers won an Oscar in 2006 for this lively documentary, which follows the ancient journey of the Antarctic Emperor penguins. Every year, as they have done for millennia, thousands of penguins leave the safety of the ocean and venture to their breeding ground on land, in one of the most inhospitable, treacherous environments on the planet. The incredible footage was shot near a French research base in Adelie Land, and is certain to amaze and inspire.  

Naomi Pyburn

Naomi is an English graduate with an itch to write. Her free time is spent blogging, reading feminist writing, cycling, cooking and managing her food Instagram account. Her not-so secret talent is the ability to nap anywhere.