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Review: Nothing On Earth, Sydney Film Festival

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Review: Nothing On Earth, Sydney Film Festival

Camping out in the remote Greenland icecaps surrounded by melting sea ice and the possibility of polar bear attacks sounds like a mountain of fun doesn’t it?

Nothing On Earth documents Australian photo-artist Murray Fredericks in his attempt to film something from pretty much nothing. Similar to his first documentary film, Salt (not the Angelina Jolie spy thriller) which was co-directed with Michael Angus and won twelve major international awards, Nothing On Earth is the abstract story of enduring emptiness in an extreme location and visualisng an emotional sense of nothingness that such a spacious landscape evokes. Frederick constantly questions his concepts, “Can space be represented visually?” and admits that it was an inside battle not to give up and go home.

Aside from the video diary edits where we are given a glorious glimpse into Fredericks' meal ration of porridge and three pieces of chocolate, this is not average cinematography. Shot through the frame of a talented photographer, stunning time-lapse sequences visualise the landscape as if it is a moving alien galaxy. Fredericks' minimalist approach to landscape photography requires some conceptual background and the film quotes famous philosophers to contexualise the dialogue's sometimes dry humour when photographing the cloud ceiling, “What’s he actually taking a picture of? / The horizon line / That’s it?”.

A relaxed attitude almost downplays the impact of dramatic collapsing glaciers and extreme winds the film team are faced with on their journey into an unknown and brutal environment. The film focuses on some subtle heartwarming nuances, like the presence of a bird in an otherwise deserted landscape, the process of bathing in the snow and dog lovers heartstrings will be undoubtedly pulled by footage of the team's Huskys on the dogsled expedition, in which one pup is narrowly rescued from a melting gap in the ice. The Icelandic dog sledding master explains on camera that if it were one day later none of them would have made it back.

Fredericks says, “Landscape photography isn’t enough – it needs people.” His discovery of a Cold War relic, an abandoned US Ground Radar station once designed to detect incoming Soviet Union vessels, is a surprising human element found in the wilderness. The structure itself, much like the photographs that were taken is snap frozen in time, complete with open bowls of chip, bottles left out on tables and personal bedroom porn posters still up on the walls.

Placing photography stills against the magnificent 360-degree overlapping time-lapse relates us back to the reason why one man would delve into the dangerous ice cap region of Greenland. It captures the beauty of space and time and visualises the fact that the whole landmass is moving towards the sea.

Nothing On Earth was screened on Sunday June 9 as part of the Sydney Film Festival and will screen again at 10.25pm June 23 on ABC1.

Cover still: Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks 

- Lauren Della Marta