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THE WORLD'S TOUGHEST FILM SHOOT: 'SELMA'
- 27 Aug 20
What is it like to challenge yourself at the edge of the world? New documentary Selma is an amazing story about the eleven crew members of the Polish yacht Selma, and their heroic challenge as they try to reach Antarctica’s The Bay of Whales.
What is it like to spend four months on a small boat to reach the Southernmost place on the marine map of the world? What does it take to carry on when you think you’ve reached your limits? We asked the documentary’s director, Maciek Jabłoński, about the highs and lows and whether being isolated in close quarters for months was a valuable preparation for this year’s lockdown.
What ﬁrst made you want to be involved with this project?
I heard about this challenge from my friend Michael - he was one of the ones attempting this crazy achievement - on our other joint expedition, a marathon from the summit of Kilimanjaro.
I wasn’t a crew member of the Selma’s Ross Sea expedition (which is what the movie is about), so I took part in the later Selma cruise. This was much shorter and gentler and organised in the early Antarctic spring. That time I sailed as the director and cinematographer of their earlier voyage to Ross Sea. I went there mainly to see what it was like to sail to Antarctica. To try some substitutes for what the boys may felt during the Ross Sea cruise… and of course for the love of adventure and nature.
How did it compare with other projects that you’ve worked on?
It was totally, totally diﬀerent. First – you struggle with yourself and your own weaknesses, which is quite common while sailing on the rough oceans. Believe me that crossing the Drake Passage and the notorious ﬁght against cold, storms and waves enhances the sea experience many times more.
Second – you’re not just a crew member on such a cruise but also (or mainly) the director and camera operator. So your main duty should be taking care about the frame, composition, catching proper situations, keeping ﬁlming equipment on and running etc. In these circumstances, it’s really challenging. I do not remember another ﬁlming situation that gave me such a hard time!
The quote from Shackleton when he was recruiting for his Antarctic expedition – ‘Daredevils needed for a dangerous trip. Low rates, bitter cold, many months in total darkness. Happy return doubtful’ – is very stark. Is Antarctica still as dangerous and inaccessible as it was then?
It is. It really is. Nowadays it should be much easier, we have modern and well-equipped yachts, modern navigation instruments; sailing is usually just a pleasure. But it seems that it isn’t just a matter of technological progress. The weakest and strongest link has been and still is – the man.
Antarctica is diﬀerent world, even today after just over 100+ years of its exploration. You need to cross the land like Mordor (from Lord of the Rings) which is the Drake Passage, a huge and dark ocean and probably the strongest storms in the world. It guards access to the last virgin piece of Earth. Then you can see probably the last paradise – face to face.
Were there points when you thought the project wouldn’t succeed and the team thought you should give up on it? How do you continue through those times?
I think so. The ﬁrst of such points was certainly the fact that the Selma’s Ross Sea expedition had already taken place some time ago, and the material shot then stayed in a drawer for many years. I went to try Antarctica later; I was supposed to shoot new material and ‘glue it all together’. It was the biggest question mark – will I feel the spirit of that expedition and can I properly depict it in the ﬁlm?
Fortunately, I met Piotr – Selma’s captain – and we shot hours of interviews with the crew and their stories about the expedition. We wrote the script of the ﬁlm together with Dominik Szczepański and my wife, which meant I think we managed to capture the spirit of that cruise quite accurately.
What did you learn about yourself – and the team – through the project?
About the captain and the crew – it is damn hard to ﬁnd a crew of people who will come with you on such an extreme trip and not kill themselves on it! Even today I don’t know how it was possible to organise that.
I think in terms of learning about myself, it’s that the limit of your possibilities is much further than you think.
What are the most important personal qualities you need to be part of a team and a project like this?
Each of the participants of this expedition is a really strong personality, but each of them knew that they were playing in one team and that the success of this expedition would be their joint achievement, only and exclusively. Obviously the captain was the glue, the commander, but they knew that only when they cooperated and helped each other, would they achieve something.
What were the highlights?
I’m going to have to avoid any spoilers! I can only say that the whole trip was one big unknown and had several critical turning points where it was necessary to decide whether or not to stop…
Was being isolated in a small space a valuable preparation for this year’s lockdown challenges?
Haha! Maybe. Cruises to such distant regions have the effect when you leave the port, you realise that the time has just begun, when you can count only on yourself. On the one hand, it is scary, and on the other hand, you come back later richer in experience that there are really few situations from which you can’t ﬁnd a way out. This definitely helps with everyday life here on land.
What does it mean to you to have set the new sailing world record?
Ah, that’s a question for the Selma crew! However, I can assure you that the record was not the most important thing. The expedition, the adventure itself and the realisation of one’s dreams was the most essential things. The record came about by accident, really.
How did you choose the music, and how do you feel it works for the project?
Usually, when I go to a place, apart from the pictures that are written in my head, I also try to record the music and sounds from those places. I try to choose music that evokes strong associations with a given place and the mood prevailing in it. Of course I have my music preferences but I hope that they are quite wide and suitable for many situations and landscapes.
Any favourite tracks?
Hard to say which one is my favourite - every single one was choosen because of… something: picture, mood, tension, …
I think that one of my favourite is the last one - 'Quiet Zone' – Tom Rosenthal - it's a good culminating point for the entire movie and - in my opinon - fits perfectly to the main character (Piotr - Selma’s master)
Check out these tracks used in Selma:
What’s next for you?
Good question… I would like to meet the next madman who would have a ﬁlm adventure to be told! I will be happy if I’ll be person who will be able to realise it. I like people who implement their extraordinary ideas, it’s very inspiring.
Find out more about Selma’s expedition and the documentary through the website. Maciek used music from Audio Network on the Selma soundtrack. If you’re looking for documentary music or music for travel, then we have a huge variety of hand-picked playlists for you to explore.
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