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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon




Polar Bears of Arctic Alaska was filmed and produced from the Inupiaq Eskimo village of Kaktovik, which lies within the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's Barter Island in the Arctic Ocean. The film shows never-before-seen sequences of polar bear play, survival, and socialization. While Churchill and other locations have been a staple of traditional polar bear programming, this is the first DVD of its kind documenting American polar bears in the Alaskan arctic. The non-narrated form and 30-minute duration make this DVD well-suited to family viewing.

Polar Bears of Arctic Alaska is a cinematic family portrait of polar bears on the scenic Beaufort Sea coast. Without a word of narration, Alaskan filmmaker Arthur C. Smith III reveals fuzzy cubs as playful students, their sows tender teachers. A gentle musical score enhances the beauty of this endearing documentary of the wild and beautiful North American polar bear.


The sound of the howling wind prepares us for a dramatic journey as we arrive in Alaska by air with the magnificence of the Brooks Range spread out beneath us. Our ears then tune in to cathedral-like music, as though in testament to God’s awe-inspiring creation.

We descend to be greeted by a willow ptarmigan in its pristine winter coat, camouflaged so perfectly against the snowscape. The scene cuts to a blood-red sunset mirrored in the icy shoreline and our first polar bear comes into view. It is so cold we can see her breath freezing in the air. She is followed by her cubs, who will be the main subject of the film’s close observation. They play endlessly in the indigo water, being as confident in the sea as on ice or land. When sleep comes they curl up together, or stretch and yawn and roll; two pups comically appear from behind their sleeping mother.

Finding what looks like a piece of skin from another bear’s meal, a cub tosses it into the air, shakes it, drops it in the water, tosses it again as though it were a seal he’d just caught. Then he tries breaking the ice, pounding both front paws down together the way he has seen his mother do when looking for seals.

The ice is melting rapidly. The struggle to get out of the water is evident; the bear looks exhausted, pathetic, not quite the king of the arctic. Global warming is a threat he cannot escape, nor do anything about.

On to happier things, such as finding strips of baleen left from an earlier whale harvest. Such fun! Cubs are inquisitive and anything can become an object of play. The film slows so that we can appreciate the beauty in the movement of the animal, and the close-ups make you wonder how long the cameraman had to sit and wait for the opportunity.

As we bid farewell a curious bear stops and turns his head in our direction, paw slightly raised, as though looking straight at us. We should savour the moment, for the survival of this awesome species hangs precariously in the balance.

With its lack of narrative, this film calmly allows us to view the polar bear in its natural beauty and makes this perfect family viewing; the children can ask questions without feeling they are interupting, and it gives parents or teachers the opportunity to make their own commentary. The film’s message about the fragility of the bear's future existence is made without the upsetting images that most documentaries feel compelled to use, yet we are still left with unease and an awareness that climate change is of vital concern to us all.

And it was nice to see in the end credits that the filmmakers respectfully acknowledged the Inupiat community of Barter Island, who's way of life is in the front line of the effects of global warming.

Copies may be purchased from: CreateSpace at https://www.createspace.com/Store/ShowEStore.jsp?id=257198.


Antarctica: Continent of Ice
Natural History New Zealand Limited
Running time 40 minutes
Price approx. NZ $49.95 plus $15.40 p&p

This educational video has been produced for school children between the ages of 9 to 15 and is accompanied by a printed teacher's Study Guide.

The video is presented in five parts, each of which may be viewed independently:

  1. Cold: describes the coldest place on Earth and explains how plants, animals, birds and fish are able to live in such a climate.
  2. Ice: describes the various ice formations found in Antarctica, and how scientists can use ice to learn about the history of this continent.
  3. Science on Ice: describes the role of modern technology in scientific research.
  4. Dry Valleys: describes the unusual dry areas of Antarctica, the climate and plant life.
  5. The Big Picture: describes the impact Antarctica has on other parts of the world.

The narrative is clear, precise, and set at a good pace with appropriate pauses allowing for the information to be absorbed. The underwater photography is spectacular and the graphics are simple yet sophisticated.

Although this video is geared to the New Zealand curriculum, the study elements may easily be adapted to fit any lesson, particularly Science. The Study Guide offers over 30 ideas for projects for various age groups.


Antarctica: Life on Ice
Natural History New Zealand Limited
Running time 40 minutes
Price approx. NZ $49.95 plus $15.40 P&P

Another first-class educational video for school children between the ages of 9 to 15, also accompanied by a printed teacher's Study Guide and presented in a five-part format:

  1. Explorers: gives a very brief outline of the history of Antarctic exploration, the methods of travel then and now, and the impact of tourism.
  2. Penguins: describes the differences between the five species of penguin found in Antarctica.
  3. Seal and Pup: concentrates on the Weddell seal and its habitat.
  4. Underwater: looks at the largest to the smallest forms of life found in the icy waters and how they fit into the food chain.
  5. Living in Antarctica: shows the living and working conditions of today's scientists, how they spend their leisure hours, and the disadvantages and dangers they face.

Again the narrative is clear and the photography excellent. The accompanying Study Guide offers 14 ideas for Science projects, 4 for Biology and 24 for Social Studies.


All reviews by S.G. Servian




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