‘Exposure’ documents all-female teams successful trek to the North Pole

Director Holly Morris (right) is shown with her expert polar film crew (from left) Ingeborg Jakobsen and Kathryn Barrows, who documented the expedition's arctic journey. Photos by Powerkeg Studios

“Exposure” is a documentary film currently making the film festival rounds, already winning 12 awards. And, in an unusual twist for Hollywood, it’s an almost all-female endeavor. Director Holly Morris, the crew, and the team that made the trek to the North Pole in 2018 are all women. And as it turns out, that may have been the last team to make the expedition to the North Pole, because continued global warming is making the ice soft and unsafe.

“It all started at Blue Bottle coffee in Malibu and went to the North Pole,” executive producer Nancy P. Sanders said in an interview. Meeting with another female producer, Jill Mazursky, she learned of the “Expedition” documentary project, and was totally intrigued. 

“I’m all about Arctic adventures and expanses of white. And when I found out it was an all-woman team from Arab and European nations, it was like a five-second decision to get involved,” Nancy continued. “I’ve always loved the concept of international groups of people working together to achieve a goal, and there’s a very timely message about climate impact and the environment.”

The story begins with an announcement to multiple countries for women to join the polar expedition, and 1,000 responded. After the group was whittled down to 13, the womens underwent 18 months of physical training as they put on cross-country skis and pulled large loads on a “sledge,” a large plastic sled. Training occurred not only in swimming pools and on streets, but on trips to Iceland and Oman, where they learned to pitch a tent and start a campfire in extreme winds, how to recover from falling into ice-cold water, deal with shifting snow, and guarding against frostbite and polar bears.

The meeting place for the actual expedition was in Norway’s Svalbard, the northernmost community in the world. Participants waited for a Russian team to build the temporary IceStation Barneo — an epic annual undertaking of clearing snow to create a runway on ice in April and set up a tourist base camp. When go-time came, the team flew from Norway to Barneo, and then a helicopter dropped them and their hundreds of pounds of gear off at 2 a.m. into -39°F temperatures about 62 miles from the North Pole. 

It was daylight 24/7 when they began their 10-day ski, noting the effects of climate change with areas of thin and cracking ice. Luckily, they didn’t run into any polar bears, but did run into other problems — one woman got frostbite and had to be helicoptered out. Some of the skis failed and some snow fields were impassable with moguls and had to be detoured around.

Once they finally reached the North Pole, the female adventurers reported feelings of “joy, new beginnings, stronger friendships,” and even “spirituality.”

The documentary is now a finalist for the prestigious Jackson Wild Media “Breakthrough Film” Award, which recognizes excellence and innovation in nature, science and conservation storytelling; and also a nominee for the 2022 Green Film Network Awards.

A private screening of the film was held Sept. 9 at the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) facility in Burbank that was standing-room-only. The event was hosted by GreenLightWomen — an entertainment industry organization for professional women over 40. 

Sanders, who divides her time between Malibu and Dallas, has executive-produced three other documentaries. One was “The River and the Wall” (2019), which was Emmy-nominated. That film went on a different kind of trek — one that followed a team the entire length of the Rio Grande along the Texas-Mexico border on horses and canoes. It detailed the environmental risks and impracticalities of Trump’s proposed wall, as well as the immigration issue.

Still in production is her newest documentary “Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling,” about light and space artist Robert Irwin, the Californian who designed the Getty gardens, and had a decades-long career ending with a huge installation in Marfa, Texas, in 2016.  

“Exposure” will be screening again at the Newport Beach Film Fest on Friday, Oct. 14, at 5 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m.; followed by Q&As with cast and crew. Tickets are available at https://nbff2022.eventive.org/welcome. Additional LA-area screening dates will soon be added to the “Exposure” website.

1 Anisa PowderKeg
Expedition team member Anisa Al Raissi of Oman was one of the women in the North Pole documentary “Exposure.” Photo by Powderkeg Studios