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Living on the Edge of the Earth

The Making of March of the Penguins

By Jeffrey Rambo | null null , null

filmmaker with penguins
Behind the scenes of March of the Penguins. (Photo: Jérôme Maison ; © 2005 Bonne Pioche Productions / Alliance De Production Cinématographique.)
What would it be like to live away from your friends and family for over a year? Imagine living in the cold and quiet of Antarctica—where the only other living creatures in sight are penguins!

That’s exactly what filmmakers of the documentary March of the Penguins did. They lived for 13 months in Antarctica to film the lives of emperor penguins. Living and working on the coldest continent wasn’t always easy.

“Yes, you encounter a lot of difficulties. But once you stay there, your body somehow adapts,” said Penguins director Luc Jacquet.

The film crew lived at a scientific station, where the French Polar Institute assisted them. The filmmakers also shared this base—located just a short distance from the South Pole—with 30 scientists.

According to Jacquet, the main challenge in making this film was the weather. Average temperatures in the interior of Antarctica are between -58 and -76 degrees Fahrenheit. Near the coast, average temperatures are between 14 and -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

To protect themselves from this extreme cold, the filmmakers had to take precautions. Filmmaker Jerome Maison said that, at dawn, the film crew would spend half an hour putting on six layers of clothes. According to Maison, there were some days when they could not spend more than three hours outside.

“In Antarctica, it is impossible to make any long-term forecasts. The worst can happen at any second,” said Maison.

And then there was the wind. The film crew worked in wind gusts of over 125 miles an hour. Winds with the force of a hurricane slam into Antarctica. The strongest winds can reach up to 200 miles an hour.

“Over time you learn to deal with the terrific wind, which in some ways is worse than the cold temperatures,” said Jacquet.

After two years of preparations, the film crew was in awe when they finally saw the emperor penguins up close. As director, Jacquet wanted to do more than just describe the creatures scientifically. He wanted to capture the story of the penguins.

“I was very moved by the penguins when I was with them. It was like bringing a very nice tale from the end of the planet to civilization,” said Jacquet.

March of the Penguins, the 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, will air on national television for the first time on the Hallmark Channel, Saturday, November 25.

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