Being asked to pull a short film together from scratch in 48 hours would challenge the most experienced of production crews and performers.

But then imagine having to brainstorm a concept, write a script, cast performers, set up, light and film multiple scenes, record voice tracks, find a soundtrack and edit and finesse, just in time to enter the final masterpiece in a multi-national competition.

And all in the middle of an Antarctic blizzard.

Just ask Davis station electronics engineer and resident film director Daniel Dyer.

Each year the Winter International Film Festival of Antarctica (WIFFA) stipulates a series of must-have inclusions.

This year the 24-strong Davis crew went for a dramatic cooking show-style format after a brainwave from station doctor Rhys Harding.

“As you can see in the cooking montage where Ben opens the kitchen cold porch door, we had blizzard conditions for the whole of Saturday – there were sustained winds above 100 km/h with the biggest gust at 172 km/h,” Dyer said.

“You can also see evidence of this during the judging scenes where there’s a bit of a camera shake and the drinks on the table are wobbling quite noticeably.”

A social circuit-breaker

The Antarctic Film Festival is steeped in hectic tradition on the icy continent and on sub-Antarctic stations, with more than 40 research stations representing 20 nations taking part.

It aims to give wintering expeditioners a social outlet with each other and other station crews across the continent, “temporarily relieving the isolation in the most hostile place on earth.”

Participating stations have just two days from Friday to Sunday night during the deep Antarctic winter, to create their entire product from start to finish.

“Coming up with a good initial concept was always going to be the hardest part,” said Dyer.

“Knowing we’d be constrained to shooting entirely inside by the very high winds forecast for Saturday and the start of Sunday, we didn’t really make much progress,”.

“After about 10 minutes, everyone went to the bar. Of course, we should probably have done that to start with, because that’s where we came up with the idea.”

And so the fiery and fast-moving ‘Totally Cooked’ was born, complete with a series of colourful and competitive cook-show characters such as Pierre Le Plough.

Davis crowned the winner

And the 2020 victor was… drumroll… Davis station! Winner of best 48 hour film,and in another nod to Dyer’s cinematic talents, winner of the Best Editing category, despite the challenges.

“In the on-camera audio the howling wind noise basically drowns out the dialogue – we had to have our grips hold the microphones just over the actors’ heads to get anything useable,” said Dyer.

“The weather cleared up enough for us to shoot the tent scene outside at the very last minute – it was shot about 3pm on Sunday.”

Ever humble, Dyer said taking out the top gong was “definitely a bit of a surprise.”

“I was cautiously hopeful for a win in the best editing category, but after having watched all the other entries, we knew there was some high quality competition so I didn’t want to hope for anything more than that,” he said.

“Also, after having watched our own film so many times I’d completely lost the ability to view it objectively, so I really had no idea if it was good or not. Of course, the icing on the cake was taking out second for ‘best costume,’ ahead of Mawson station.”

Well done Dan, Davis station leader Dave Knoff and the crack creative Davis team!

48 hour Antarctic Film Festival – fast facts:

Winter International Film Festival of Antarctica (WIFFA) is an annual film festival open exclusively to those who spend the entire winter in Antarctica or in sub-Antarctic areas.

The inaugural festival in 2006 involved just two Antarctic research stations – McMurdo (USA) and Scott (NZ)

Since then it has grown to a truly international event involving 20 nations, including France, Italy, USA, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Russia, India, UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, China, Poland, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Japan, Norway and Ukraine.

Variants of five themes – a sound, an object, a quote, a character and an action - are chosen each year by different stations and must be included.

This year, they were:

  • A wet slap (Rothera station, UK)
  • A stretcher (Macquarie Island, Australia)
  • “Stay a little longer, baby,” (Bharati station, India)
  • Martial arts film star Bruce Lee (Great Wall station, China)
  • Dining All Together (King Sejong station, Republic of Korea)

Each awards night usually involves another dress-up and is streamed across the Antarctic continent. The film festival was organised this year by Concordia station (Italy/France).

There are no trophies, other than “recognition from the other bases and the enthusiasm and happiness that result from a victory itself.”

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