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Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul cover photo

Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul 2013

Recommended with reservations

Distributed by TDC Entertainment, 220 East 23rd St., Suite 405, New York, NY 10010
Produced by Sebastian Copeland
Directed by Sebastian Copeland
DVD, color, 88 min.



General Adult
Arctic, Global Warming, Admiral Robert Peary

Date Entered: 03/14/2014

Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

In the spring of 2009 the intrepid adventurers Sebastian Copeland and Keith Heger set out to replicate Robert E. Peary’s expedition to the North Pole. This stunningly filmed documentary captures their adventure. Completed in honor of the centennial of Peary’s expedition, the two adventurers joined an elite club of just 150 who have made it on foot to the North Pole, known in the small club of extreme adventurers as the “Everest of Polar Expeditions.”

There is something archaic in their quest – an echo of the heroic era of exploration in the nineteenth century, when building empires and going to where no man or woman had gone before became a rallying call for European imperialists. They scaled mountains, reached the Poles, and finally ascended into space and to the moon, planting flags and claiming new milestones in human progress. It is no accident that Copeland is the son of a British adventurer who shot rare species of animals in exotic locales. Copeland’s mission nonetheless sheds the more sinister imperialist and jingoistic motivations of an earlier era. While retracing Peary’s heroic journey, the explorers report on the fragility of the planet, highlighting the Arctic as a kind of canary in the coalmine of irreversible man-made climate warming. Using the stunning imagery of threatened landscapes, the film hopes to make people fall in love with the Arctic and redouble their efforts to save it from the coming deluge. Bringing home the urgency of the situation, the film notes that this may be the final walk to the North Pole, as the melting of the polar ice cap could likely make a repeat trip impossible. The planet’s fate, as the documentary points out, is inextricably linked with the fate of the Arctic, ground zero for climate change.

The film also examines the logistical and physical challenges of preparing for and successfully completing a 300 mile trip to the North Pole. Those details are often fascinating, though for this reviewer less focus on the trip and more on the threatened environment of the Arctic would have been preferable. More historical information on Peary’s mission, as compared to Copeland’s trek, would have helped to highlight the dramatic changes that the Arctic has undergone – as well as the immense advantages that present explorers have over those from the earlier heroic era of exploration. Copeland’s trip had numerous high-tech advantages: satellite communications, trips to takeoff points by plane, a return flight from the pole by helicopter, GPS, cold kits of various sorts, protein and calorie packed foods, heaters, modern tents and sleeping bags. The challenges that the current team faced, including falling into the frigid waters through thin ice at one point, make Peary’s original accomplishment all the more impressive.

If the intent of the film was to highlight the fate of the Arctic as a warning about the global impact of climate change, the film falls short. The documentary attempts to combine an environmental message, a tribute to Peary’s original voyage, and the story of Copeland’s journey. Of those tales, the documentary tells best the details of Copeland’s voyage. That is not accidental: it reflects the often self-indulgent quality of the documentary, a tale of a privileged Los Angeles photographer and filmmaker preaching about the shortcomings of modern civilization. Unfortunately, it is less effective as an investigation into Peary’s original voyage or of highlighting the present crisis of the arctic environment. It thus provides less information than might be needed in a classroom setting – despite the beautiful footage.

Awards

  • Winner, Indie Spirit Film Festival 2010
  • Winner, Best Director, Los Angeles Reel Film Festival, 2009