"If you want to show what Antarctica really is, you have to go into the storm," says French director and biologist Luc Jacquet, 36, who spent 13 months capturing the Geological Headland Archipelago colony of emperor penguins as they waddled hundreds of miles to hatch and rear the next generation, for March of the Penguins (Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Features). Jacquet's crew endured minus 104°F (minus 75°C) temps, midnight blizzards, and frigid waters to film the second highest grossing documentary after Fahrenheit 9/11. But they also had a few magical encounters while capturing the penguins' tenacious will to survive. Here, Jacquet reveals the secrets behind his first feature film, available on DVD on November 29. Order the DVD here >>
The penguins' nesting ground
was surrounded by ice. How'd
you get around?
Most of the time, we pulled sleds
to move our 50 kilos [110 pounds] each of equipment. At the end of
the day or when the snow was
very powdery, it was terribly
difficult. The last 300 meters
[984 feet] uphill to our base camp, the Dumont d' Urville research station, was like an ice skating
Did the penguins interact with you?
Yes, in the beginning of the cycle, they
used their mating rituals on us. They danced. They sang. Sometimes they
tried to touch our clothing or push us
with their beaks. In this part of the world, wild creatures actually try to know you.
But once they were dealing with the eggs,
they didn't come so close.
There's a scene where an egg cracks due to exposure. Was it hard to resist helping?
This is just the way of life in Antarctica. If you saw an egg rolling, you might want to return it to the penguin's pouch. But if you did, the penguins would not understand and the colony would panic.
What techniques did you use to get such candid, intimate shots of the penguins?
We hid a camera inside an [artificial] egg, but the penguins were so curious that all
we filmed were bellies and feet. We also mounted a camera on something like a homemade surfboard. It was made of
wood and painted white. The goal was
to slide in closer to see the penguins' pouches. It worked.
There's amazing footage of parents passing the eggs. Did
you use the surfboard to get it?
No, it's a tricky maneuver, so we had to stay far away. We used
long lenses to film it. Trust me,
they were very nervous. For a human, an egg is something to
eat. But I wanted to share the emotion of this moment.
Was it difficult to get that first ever underwater footage of a leopard seal hunting a penguin?
Underwater shooting is very dangerous because the ice on
the surface is moving all the time and you can become trapped quickly. But we had two very experienced cold-water divers,
so it was easy.
After hanging out with 7,000 emperor penguins, did you start to smell like one of them?
It was so cold that we were only smelly once we warmed up. The odor is hard to describe. You have to go there.
Photographs by Jerome Maison/Bonne Pioche Productions/Alliance de Productions Cinematographique
Pick up the November 2005 issue for more great adventure travel ideas, news, and articles by award-winning writers.