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Filming Antarctica From Chile: Union Glacier & King George Island

Written on September 24, 2016

There are two main location basecamp options for filming Antarctica from Chile: Union Glacier and King George Island.

Union Glacier

Location. Union Glacier is by far the best location for the flat, endless Antarctic desert looks we imagine when we think of the South Pole. Union Glacier camp has an ice runway, with sleeping (tents) and other basic facilities. There are of course no hotels or restaurants.

Weather. Central Antarctica is a desert. As such, the weather is more reliable than coastal Antarctica (King George Island). That said, if the weather suddenly turns, you’re potentially stuck in your tent for days. October / November are coming out of the coldest months but it’s still very cold no matter the time of year. The summer months run from November to March with the longest daylight hours at the end of December.

Permits. Depends on the specifics of the shoot, but it is generally very time consuming and expensive with permission required from multiple government authorities. Allow 6 weeks for permits.

Travel. Getting there you would fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas (4hrs) and then Punta Arenas to Union Glacier (4.5hrs). Important to remember when in Antarctica you may get trapped by weather for several days and then have to move quickly once the pilot deems it safe to travel. This reality can add to costs considerably.

Costs. Getting there from Punta Arenas and staying for a week costs about USD50K per person. As you can imagine, it’s one thing if you’re in Antarctica for several months, until you get the footage they need, and another thing altogether if you’re a TVC shoot hoping to stick to a schedule.  As such, very few commercials shoot in Antarctica.

Safety. When dealing with extreme, unpredictable weather, anything can happen. It’s essential to have a team that is experienced in cold weather filming and well prepared with winterised equipment.

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King George Island

Location. King George Island, also offers Antartica locations, albeit more rocky and coastal than the flat, vast ice desert that is central Antarctica.

King George Island has several Antarctic research facilities belonging to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Uruguay, and The United States.

As with Union Glacier, facilities are limited.

The Chilean Station on the Fildes Peninsula, is operated as a permanent village with an airstrip (including a large hangar and control tower along with other buildings), cafeterias for personnel, a bank, a post office and family homes.

The Chinese “Great Wall” base features an indoor multipurpose room which serves as a full-size basketball court.

Russia’s Bellingshausen Station has a nearby Orthodox church. Trinity Church is the southernmost church in the world and one of the few permanent structures in Antarctica. It is permanently manned by a priest.

Poland’s Arctowski lighthouse at Arctowski Station is the most southerly lighthouse of the world.

Weather. King George Island is coastal and therefore notoriously unreliable for weather, all year round. The summer months are November to March. The longest daylight hours are not until the end of December.

Permits. Depends on the specifics of the shoot, but it is generally very time consuming and expensive with permits potentially required from the Airforce, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Defense Ministry, Science Departments, and other relevant authorities. Allow 6 weeks for permits.

Travel. Getting there by air requires a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas (4hrs) and then Punta Arenas to King George Island (2hrs). It is also possible to reach King George Island by boat from the Argentine port of Ushuaia. It is a 2 day sail across the treacherous Drake Passage – not recommended if you suffer from sea sickness. Important to remember when in King George Island you may get trapped by weather for several days and then have to move quickly once the pilot deems it safe to travel. This reality can add to costs considerably and there are no guarantees you’re going to get the clear weather shots you want.

Costs. Varies depending on the approach. The King George Island option is generally less expensive than flying to Union Glacier, but still very expensive.

Safety. When dealing with extreme, unpredictable weather, anything can happen. You need to have a team who know what they’re doing in polar conditions as well as have equipment that is ready for the cold.

Events. Aside from the year-round research, the Antarctic marathon takes place every summer. Penguin chicks hatch and fur seals can be seen hunting in the melting ice floes during the summer months.

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Antarctica Production Service Support

Contact us if you are looking for production service support for your shoot in Union Glacier, King George Island, or other parts of Antarctica. If you are looking for a film crew experienced in working in this part of the world, we can recommend the right crew for the specific needs of your shoot.