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Freeze-frame: Cinema Antarctic breaks the ice for polar scientists

SYDNEY: Black-and-white movie images flicker on the side of an iceberg as the audience, dressed in layers of thermal clothing and padded suits against the freezing night, laugh at a French comedy about a journey to the end of the Earth.

Welcome to Cinema Antarctic, one of a series of special events held at international scientific stations on the globe's southernmost continent to celebrate the long, dark days of mid-winter.

Others included meals of gourmet treats such as duck fettuccine, boot-throwing competitions and even the chance to swim in a pool hacked out of polar ice.

The start of June to mid-July marks the darkest days of the Antarctic season, when there are only two to three hours of light at best - making fun not merely an option but a necessity to blow off steam.

"Mid-winter is a milestone for most (people), as it marks halfway through their Antarctic experience and the down-hill run to see family and friends begins," said Martin Passingham, a videographer living at the French scientific station of Dumont d'Urville (DDU), 66.4 degrees south of the equator in East Antarctica.

Passingham was one of 29 people living at DDU who walked two kilometres (1.2 miles) across sea ice, enduring temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) to watch "A la Conquete du Pole" or "To Conquer the Pole," a 1912 comedy by Georges Melies.

"The weather was perfect," Passingham told Reuters by email. "After the movie we looked up and what do you know - an aurora was darting all over the sky, one of the best yet."

Other activities included Olympic Games and a casino night, where men donned their best suits and women their most glamorous frocks for roulette and poker - cold cash not required.

"Saturday night was the piece de resistance for all things gastronomic - seafood medley entree, Beef Wellington main, finishing with nougat glace," said Passingham, who is making a documentary on Emperor penguins.

Thousands of kilometres further south, at Australia's Mawson Station, one of the main events was swimming in a pool created by hacking through 1.5 metres (5 ft) of ice.

With no protection other than swim suits, those brave enough, some carrying inflatable beach toys, plunged screaming into the water for several seconds before scrambling out again.

"It's actually freezing over as you're in the water, so there's someone with a broom pushing away the new-forming ice as people jump in," deputy station leader Melanie Fitzpatrick told Reuters by phone.

At Casey Station, another Australian outpost, festivities began with a barbecue and continued with a grudge ice hockey game, the sticks fashioned by the base carpenter.

Yet eventually all good times must come to an end.

"We've had our mid-winter party and we may be halfway through the winter," said Mark Hunt, Casey Station leader. "But we've still got four more months to knuckle down and work through."

 

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