It's indescribable. It's almost not like Earth. It's such a challenge to transmit via film the sensations you feel over there. The scale is just mindboggling. You have icebergs that are 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) wide. It's a strange and eerie environment, hence my use of an impressionistic voice to try to transmit the beauty. There's no human reference point for it. There are only two color schemes. You don't smell anything. It's very complicated to try to convey this. All I have to work with is my passion.
How did you approach the penguins?
It's easy to get near them. They haven't been accustomed to any form of colonization, so they're not scared of humans. They are also easy to work with because they have extremely predictable behavior in terms of where they will be, what they will do, the routes they will take. It's possible to anticipate pretty much everything. You have 3,000 couples [of penguins] repeating the same kind of gesture, all at the same moment.
How would you describe the overall theme of the movie?
I wanted to tell things more as I felt them, rather than try to describe them as a scientist. It's about the struggle between life and death. It explores the outer limits of what is possible for a creature to experience. The penguins live where no other creature can. This is what struck me the most. How do they do it? How do they manage?
Watching the movie, I was particularly struck by the fragility of the mating ritual and the lives of the penguins.
Obviously life is threatened by the slightest things, like a hole in the ice. The penguins make this incredible journey, and then everything can fall to pieces in an instant. Many don't make it. In one second, everything can be lost, and then you have to start over the following year. I wanted that [sense] to be central throughout the storythat there's never really a safe moment for the penguins.
Why do they return to the same place every year for their mating ritual?
There are four sites around Antarctica where the penguins go to mate, and they share the same characteristics. They have stable ice for the whole breeding sequence, and they are also sheltered by icebergs that can break the wind and make for somewhat easier conditions. These are like small oases.
Despite going on this incredible trek every year, the penguins are terrible walkers. Shouldn't Darwinian evolution have fixed their walking problems by now?
That's a good point, and I don't have an answer for that. If [you gave] the penguins [the] choice to spend all their lives underwater, I think they would take you up on it.
Climate change is a major concern facing Antarctica. Why did you choose not to include any reference to the impact global warming has on the continent?
In my opinion, the best way to protect the planet is to get people to like it. One protects what one loves. It's obvious that global warming has an impact on the reproduction of the penguins. But much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming. We have to find other ways to communicate to people about it, not just lecture them.
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