This is a curious little film to get distribution over in the UK, half a world away from where it was made, as a New Zealand television documentary about an air crash that took place in Antarctica in 1979. Still, true-life stories of people operating in extremis are always fascinating, and this particular take is a well-mounted blend of talking head documentary testimony along with dramatic re-enactments which move the story along at a fair clip (the two directors attached to the film being responsible for the two different strands). The film’s chief setting is on the icy lower slopes of Mount Erebus in Antarctica, the site of what is still the deadliest disaster in the country’s aviation history, where a team of police detectives were dispatched to coordinate the body retrieval as “Operation Overdue”. This is the story the documentary is most interested in, this small group of guys, almost to a man entirely unfamiliar with mountaineering or icy conditions, required to do the grisly task of clean-up, and the dramatic recreations are keen to try and convey a sense of what this would have been like. The other story taking place in the background (one largely set in a series of glumly-decorated 1970s offices), is the inquiry into the reasons for the crash, which heavily implicated poor management within Air New Zealand, and led not just to management changes but also the colourful phrase “an orchestrated litany of lies” (which gained much traction in NZ popular culture thereafter). Still, whatever conspiratorial boardroom politics the film occasionally suggests, the focus remains squarely on the police officers and their own story. It’s a documentary that will interest those intrigued by stories of real-life tragedy, but it remains one probably best suited to the small screen.
Directors Charlotte Purdy and Peter Burger; Cinematographer DJ Stipsen; Length 68 minutes.
Seen at Genesis, London, Tuesday 13 January 2015.