Our Lunchtime Cinema pick for March is a stunning short animation regarding Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen. If you know anything about Freuchen, then you can probably guess which tale that is. If you don’t, here’s a brief introduction. Peter Freuchen was a six foot seven Danish traveller, author and anthropologist. He's most notable for this role in the Thule Expeditions, led by the legendary Knud Rasmussen, but best known for another story; in which he managed to dig his way out an avalanche in Greenland using - and here's the kicker - his own frozen faeces. Yup, you read that right.
Now, to address the elephant in the room, should a ‘Lunchtime Cinema’ slot really involve frozen faeces? Well, look - the film is beautifully artistic. It’s funny, majestic, harrowing and creative in equal measures (no mean feat), and having done the film festival circuit in 2020, it’s just dropped online for all to see. So... yes, you absolutely should watch this film on your lunch break, and then read our chat with Drew Christie, the man behind the project, which follows below.
Just maybe, on this occasion, eat your lunch before you take your cinema seat.
After watching this beautiful animation, we caught up with the Washington State-based Drew Christie via Zoom (what else?) to chat all about Icebound.
“My wife knows that I like interesting characters and stories, and about three years ago she gave me one of Peter Freuchen’s books called ‘Vagrant Viking’,” he says. “It starts slow but then as you get on, each chapter has about 20 stories in it like this one - and each seems to be more intense and harrowing than the last.”
For Drew, part of the draw of the project was the idea of having to figure out a way to animate Freuchen’s unique choice of dagger - undoubtedly the element that has given the story such longevity. “I always like to look for odd things to try and animate and bring to life,” he says. “I didn’t know how I would do this - it’s sort of like something from South Park meets something really serious. I figured it out as I went, because there’s really no road map for something like this!”
Beyond the faecal dagger though (a phrase which we can honestly say we never expected to write), the film is just really quite beautiful. Watching the flickering snow and howling winds on screen, you really get a sense for the harsh conditions of the Greenland expedition. Combined with the drama that comes from the soundtrack, the film becomes really quite gripping viewing.
“I derive a lot of inspiration from nature,” Christie says. “We live around the woods here, and I grew up in a woodsy setting. There’s something about being in the outdoors, the fresh air, the smells, and seeing all the plants and animals and wind and water that’s just very inspiring. I’m always more interested in setting and environment, and in the mood of something, than in the mechanics of the characters, though obviously you need to have that for an audience to care!”
The facts of Freuchen’s tale have been debated almost since the release of ‘Vagrant Viking’ in 1953, and Drew treated himself to a few creative liberties in order to enhance the storyline. “Freuchen’s request to move to Hawaii I added in because I thought it was funny,” he says. “And to create more empathy for the character. In reality he was sitting in his cabin and heard that a French scientist was lost somewhere and he just decided to go. Throughout the book, he hears something, then heads off and just does some super dangerous thing.
“The true story is actually a little crazier. [Freuchen] does break his own toe off, but not at his own house. He finds an igloo and there’s an old Inuit woman who takes care of him, which I loved, but I just didn’t have the film time to work with."
It's an incredible film, and an even more remarkable story - though one which we would advise, for everyone's sake, you do not attempt to recreate at home.
Fancy kayaking amongst icebergs? Check out our 100km self-powered adventure in Greenland! You'll have a much better time than Freuchen.