“Antarctica is a different world,” says filmmaker Maciek Jabłoński, with all the recollected awe of someone who has actually witnessed the planet’s last great wilderness.
Still a brutal and dangerous environment, “even after over 100 years of exploration, and with all the modern technologies in navigation and safety,” the perils and beauty of the Southern Ocean come across with fearful realism in his first feature documentary, Selma – An Adventure from the Edge of the World. The film tells the story of the Polish yacht S/Y Selma Expedition and its 11 crew members’ voyage that took them to The Ross Sea, the coldest and southernmost waters in the world.
Piecing together the movie from footage shot on the Ross Sea expedition as well as “the yacht’s many other Antarctic expeditions to that area,” Maciek has made a film that shows not only the crew’s achievement, but the strength of character necessary to pilot a small yacht through these thrilling but deadly waters. “I wasn’t a crew member of the Selma’s Ross Sea expedition – I didn’t know the team at that time – but I heard about this challenge from my friend, and took part in the later Selma cruise, organised in early Antarctic spring, sailing as the director and cinematographer in order to bring their story to the screen.”
Shooting on board the Selma was, as you’d expect, a tricky experience at times, especially as Maciek was also serving as part of the crew with “the same duties as all on board, including the galley watch, steering, and so on.” To bring the archival footage together and make the movie complete with his own footage, he had an exacting shot, so it was vital that his cameras were always at hand, letting him react to an opportunity. “I slept with a camera, I went on watch with a camera, I also went to the toilet with a camera!” he laughs.
With strict limits on the amount of luggage crew members could take on board, small, light and powerful movie- making gear was a must.
“Almost the entire movie was made on Sony equipment,” Maciek explains, “during the Ross Sea expedition in 2015, it was mainly shot on the PXW-X70, which has a great balance between quality and mobility. During my cruise, my A/B camera bodies were the Alpha 7 III and Alpha 7R III. I needed cameras that could shoot video and stills, and give me cinematic quality – and Sony’s Alpha 7 series is the only full-frame kit that connects these things. I also used an FS5, and this was my A camera during Selma shoots for working on shore. I love the FS5 for its compact size, but it was the Alpha 7’s that were at the heart of the project.”
Adding to the benefits of, “a full-frame sensor in such a small body a compact body,” Maciek’s footage relied heavily on his Alpha cameras’ internal image stabilisation (IBIS), “because no external gimbal was used during my shots. I could also shoot in S-Log format for greater quality and set the camera to 50p/100p mode, so that later in post-production I could change the FPS quite freely. These cameras also have excellent battery performance, solid weather-sealed construction, and can shoot in very low light conditions with almost no loss of quality – all things that were vital in a voyage through these challenging waters.”
With shots needing to be filmed on and off the Selma, as well as from the top of her mast, the flexibility of his Alpha cameras gave Maciek all he needed. “I think now,” he says, “that even if I took a large camera with me, I wouldn’t be able to use it. Believe me – when you’re at the end of the world and freezing water is spilling over the deck, your attention is really focused on something other than operating a big camera! My greatest difficulty in taking pictures at sea was dealing with my own weaknesses, like seasickness, and forcing myself to work and focus on the picture. It was really hard sometimes.”
From capturing the harshest of storms across the Drake Passage as the crew battled with huge waves, to the beautiful but deadly calm of the glittering Ross Ice Barrier, Selma “was definitely a movie that was made in the most challenging conditions,” says Maciek, “and for me it was also my first meeting with Antarctica. If my equipment hadn’t helped me to make this movie a reality, I probably wouldn’t ever have gone there. Exploring Antarctica nowadays should be much easier because we have modern navigation and well-equipped yachts but it’s not just a matter of technological progress. The weakest and strongest link has been and still is the man. And as one of the crew says at the end of the film, the Ross Sea expeditions proves that if you really want something, you can achieve it, no matter who you are.”