Monday, 3 October 2011

Majestic Fragility: Our Earth's Polar Regions


Royal Northern College of Music
Sunday 23 October
First performance 3pm, Second performance 7pm
Cost & Booking: £10 (restricted view), £20, £25, £30. Booking required. You can also purchase tickets in person at the RNCM

Combining the majesty of the earth’s polar regions with a stunning live orchestral score, Polar is sure to be a unique and thrilling film and musical experience.
The Royal Northern College of Music’s largest screen will host white blizzards and humpback whales, while the Manchester Camera perform a specially arranged score conducted by John Harle.
Polar is an immersive event that will leave the whole family astounded.
Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal caught up with producer Andrew Glester in the lead up to the Festival premiere.
First off, tell me about Polar. What’s the event going to be like for festival go-ers?Polar is a combination of high-definition footage from the best natural history filmmakers in the world, the same people that make BBC natural history programs. All the archival footage we used is about the Poles, the arctic and the Antarctic. And we worked w/ The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and John Harle to compose the live score. At the Manchester Science Festival, the Manchester Camerata will be accompanying the film with a score by John Harle, made of music written just for Polar, along with other classical compositions.

The thing is, for every BBC documentary that gets made, there’s hours and hours of footage that doesn’t make it into the BBC programs. They’re interested in the showing the exciting 5 seconds of an attack, but we’re interested in the reality of life, which includes a lot of quiet moments.

Because it’s a live show, we have more leeway to do experimental things that you can’t see on television. For example, there’s a sequence in Polar which is about seven or eight minutes long, and it’s just footage of the Aurora Borealis, with a piece of really odd classical music.

We’ve taken footage that they shot for other documentaries but didn’t use, so even though the footage already existed, it’s never been seen before! We’ve made something new out of it.

The screen fills whole back of the Royal Northern College of Music’s stage. Polar is about being transported to world which most of us will never go to in the company of this incredible live music. The most amazing thing about it is that it’s a live event. You can’t see Polar w/out going to see it live.

How did you get interested in the Poles and decide to make this film?
I think Jacques Cousteau was right when he said “It’s easier to protect what you love.” We wanted to make things that inspire a love for our planet.  Or the people of our planet, or the wildlife, the nature. And not just our planet, the universe, everything.

As far as choosing to focus on the Poles, well, the magic of the Poles is that so few of us will ever get to go and experience that world. There’s a sense of going somewhere that you could never see, really, or you are very unlikely to see. And with Polar, it’s like being taken on a journey to that world, because of the huge scale of the screen.

The Manchester Science Festival is Polar’s second performance. It premiered at Liverpool in January. What was the reaction like?
Some people have said it was an honour to be at the concert, which was wonderful.
I think the amazing thing for us was seeing how many really young children, 3-5 year olds, were enjoying it. It’s not surprising, though, because the film is very visual, very interesting.

There’s a moment when the polar bear comes on screen for the first time, and you can hear the joy in the audience. Another time, some penguins are falling over and playing, and you can hear the audience just laughing along. Or you see the underwater world of a pod of beluga whales interacting, set to John Harle’s music.

There are moments that aren’t quite so joyful as well. But it’s all part of an emotional experience that’s unparalleled. You sit somebody down with a live orchestra, playing music they would never listen to in their house, you show them footage they’d never see on their televisions… you get something kind of unbelievable. You get these amazing long weird sequences, things that are different, like nothing anyone’s seen before. And those sequences are often people’s favourite parts of the show. Because it’s so different.  

The feeling you get from watching Polar is just like nothing else.

Apart from inspiring people to love the planet, you are also interested in the ecological impacts of your productions, right?
Yes, there’s something quite nice ecologically about this film, too. Travelling to these places would have a huge carbon footprint, whereas this footage was already filmed. We just made something new out of things that already existed.

And when we send the show around, we send a hard drive and a conductor. The footprint of the show is very small. I don’t want to shout too much about that, because the lowest footprint is of course no show at all.

I’m interested in low-carbon shows, though. I like the idea of maybe doing a cycle-powered show. 

Why did you think of having live classical music played to it? What is the connection between nature film and music for you?
In a way, Polar combines some great interests of mine. I’m a science geek, and I love classical music. I wanted, with Polar, to make something that people come and experience and have a wonderful time.

But the truth is that because the footage is so grand, stark, huge and inspiring, orchestral music just feels right.

What did you learn about the Poles as a result of this work?How do you think this film helps people engage with science?
Here’s how I look at it: I already know what the northern lights are, I’ve read about them.
In a way, I knew what they were, but in another… I didn’t.

I think that even if people know about the northern lights, if they haven’t seen them personally, there’s something visceral to be learned about them by seeing them this way…

The idea of Polar is to inspire people to want to know about the Poles.

I think it’s impossible to sit and look at the northern lights and not want to know what is really going on there…It’s impossible to look at polar bears and not be fascinated about their lives.

It’s near the start of the Manchester Science Festival and it might also be the start of a lot of people’s exploration of sciences.

The Manchester Science Festival presents Polar: An HD journey to the magical frozen oceans at the ends of our earth
Royal Northern College of Music, 124 Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9RD
Sunday 23 October
performance 3pm, Second performance 7pm
Cost & Booking: £10 (restricted view), £20, £25, £30. Booking required. You can also purchase tickets at the RNCM.

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