In Svalbard, Norway, noted in “Exposure” as the northernmost inhabited place in the world, a group of women from a variety of different countries are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, but can be heard inside a tent angry at one another over who threw out the coffee. With the arctic tundra outside, the gripes are both understandable yet petty when there are far greater issues to worry about and while “Exposure” hardly lingers on any divisions between the women, the acknowledgment that they exist is part of what makes Holly Morris’ doc about a groundbreaking trek to the North Pole so powerful when the natural obstacles to overcome are both geographical and human.
Regardless of the gender of the skiers involved, “Exposure” is fascinating as it shows the apparatus required to make such an expedition possible, involving preparations to clear paths near base camp for rescue helicopters to fly in with supplies or in case of emergencies and training that has those planning to take on such a strenuous physical ordeal willingly facing face first into pools of ice to adjust to the cold. However, Morris wouldn’t have likely braved the below freezing temperatures herself if there wasn’t something unique about the expedition, spearheaded by Felicity Aston, a British/Finnish explorer who was the first woman to complete the 100-kilometer ski from Svalbard to the North Pole alone and invites seven other women to follow in her tracks as a group in 2018.
“If you put too many similar characters together, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Aston says two years ahead of the expedition, casting a wide net to bring in a diverse crew from across the world with skillsets as disparate, from Susan, a marine biologist from France who can study the women’s biometrics under extreme circumstances, to Ida, a Swedish sharpshooter enlisted for protection against polar bears. Although there’s a palpable collective excitement about what they’re about to undertake, Aston remains skeptical about how they’ll coalesce on the course, concerns that aren’t entirely misplaced when conversations about their family backgrounds can become contentious in addition to having their endurance tested in a number of other ways as their feet become blistered and winds can kick up outside their tents to over 60 miles-per-hour.
Still, the women can rally around the shared experience of leading complex lives, whether in Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and in the same fearless spirit that led them to the end of the earth, Morris frequently pulls back to show individually how they’ve taken on the world well before getting to the North Pole. Gravitating towards Misba, a Muslim chaplain who takes time away from her family in England to do something well outside of her routine, “Exposure” aims to do the same as a handsomely shot and energetically paced piece of escapism that steps foot where few other have, and just as Aston’s initial foray into unknown territory was inspirational, committing these women’s journey to film is likely to get others comfortable with entering places thought to be unwelcoming to them no matter where they are in the world.
“Exposure” will screen at DOC NYC on November 16th at 9:50 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea and available virtually on the DOC NYC online platform through November 28th.