Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Film screening in lieu of a seminar: “Among the Mountains and Valleys of the Arctic” & “Spitsbergen”

These Polish documentaries have been preserved in the WFO archive in Łódź and are screened here with their permission. Text by Professor Andrei Rogatchevski (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)

2polish documentaries

4 May 2021

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, with a free economic zone status provided by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, whose 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2020. Since the mid-1920s, Norway has been granting the Treaty’s signatories equal access to the archipelago for business (e.g. coal mining) and research purposes. The archipelago has officially remained demilitarised even during the Cold War, even though NATO’s and Warsaw Pact’s nuclear submarines were regular guests in Svalbard’s waters. On the archipelago itself, citizens of both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries coexisted peacefully for decades.

Before the opening of an airport on the archipelago in the mid-1970s it was a hard-to-reach place, isolated from the rest of the world for many months, after the navigation ended. Visual representations of the archipelago from before that period are quite rare and especially valuable, both from a historical viewpoint and as a testimony of what this stunningly beautiful exotic land looked like in different seasons, flora, fauna and human presence included.

Two Polish documentaries, “Among the Mountains and Valleys of the Arctic” (14 min) by Włodzimierz Puchalski (1909-79) and “Spitsbergen” (18 min) by Jarosław Brzozowski (1911-69), have been preserved in the WFO archive in Łódź and are screened here with the archive’s permission. They were made by two Polish film crews in the late 1950s on and near the Polish polar research station in Hornsund, which was built in the course of the International Geophysical Year and is still in operation today. Poland did not have an ownership claim to the archipelago, and this is perhaps the chief reason why the two films (unlike similar Norwegian and Russian/Soviet documentaries, which are often marked by such claims) are full of pure, ideologically unencumbered admiration for Svalbard’s nature and natural scientists, captured perfectly in glorious black and white (Brzozowski) as well as colour (Puchalski). The combined epistemological and aesthetic effect of these films is difficult to overestimate. They can be said to serve as a memorable illustration of the theoretical concept of consilience by E. O. Wilson, which argues for a unity of knowledge between sciences, humanities and the arts.

The soundtrack to Brzozowski’s film has either been lost or never made. Instead, a new soundtrack has been specially composed by Hyperstasis.

Text by Professor Andrei Rogatchevski (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)

More information about Professor Andrei Rogatchevski

 The films were available during the IAS five-year anniversary festival.

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This screening forms part of the IAS five-year anniversary festival on the theme of ‘Alternative Epistemologies’. Please find other events below.