Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon's doc, THE PENGUIN COUNTERS is about exactly that

A ragtag documentary about a ragtag team of field biologists who travel to the wilds of Antarctica to count the dwindling penguin population, THE PENGUIN COUNTERS' goal, notes its main character and leading biologist Ron Naveen according to the film's press release, is to inspire audiences "to think more positively and proactively about climate change." Proactively, I can understand. But positively? Maybe not. But since we seem to be stuck with climate change, thanks to decades of venal and corrupt politicians, culminating in the current reign of the most corrupt, foolhardy and worthless of them all -- and, yes, Mr. Trump, I am speaking of you -- we might as well embrace our demise and "adjust."

This very minor documentary -- but it is one not without its charms -- has been directed, written, produced and shot by the team of Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon (both of whom are shown above), with help from Erik Osterholm. The film is probably a shoo-in for penguin lovers, a lot of whom must exist, given the huge success of that silly, anthropomorphizing doc, March of the Penguins. The birds we see here are mostly what are known as Chinstrap Penguins (one of which is shown below), and though we do see a lot of shots of these, we don't see all that much about penguin life that we haven't seen previously.

What we do see is Mr. Naveen (below) and his crew of biologists as they plan for, travel to and then do their "count" of the penguins they find in a certain area of Antarctica. Along with this, we get a very short and small history of explorer Ernest Shackelton and his much-lesser-known (unfairly, it would seem) helper, Frank Wild. The film's most moving scene involves a "funeral service" for Wild (set up by those who wish to honor him), and even though you, as I, may never have even heard of the guy previously, this section of the doc cannot fail to impress via the deep feelings Wild's descendants and followers clearly possess. The funeral service becomes a tardy but important kind of memorial for this lesser-known explorer.

Early on Mr. Naveen explains that "Penguins are indicators of ocean health and are also going to ultimately be the sentinels of change." He and his crew seem to have discovered that the one breed of Chinstrap may actually be growing and getting stronger. Is this because it can better handle climate change? If so, how and why?

When we finally arrive at the "counting" of the penguin population, we rather expect that the above questions will be at least partially answered. So far as I could tell, they are not. Though we (and the biologists) are there at the height of the breeding season, how they manage their counting, along with how accurate it actually is, remains something of a mystery. It is clearly only an estimate.

Along the way, the crew certainly eats well. Considering the film's short length (a few seconds over 67 minutes), quite a bit of time is spent viewing the tasty-looking meals that are served. We learn very little specifics about any of the crew members, either, But those penguins are fun to watch, and the Antarctic -- "It's very easy to kill yourself here," we're told -- is certainly a beautiful, if desolate, place to behold.

From First Run Features, the movie has its theatrical premier this Friday, April 21, in New York City at the Cinema Village. Being from FRF, it will certainly make its way to home video eventually, with a DVD and maybe streaming options, too.

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