Albus Dumbledore has been resurrected as Longyearbyen’s senior-most resident, only he’s suddenly not sure he recognizes the town at all.
Nor will lots of other longtime Svalbard inhabitants if they’re viewing their neighborhood through a collection of new programs on TV and streaming video screens. Is it a seemingly enlightened realm haunted by an underlying and deadly menace? A global commune built around a shared pillar of worship? A communist wasteland where toil and vodka are the most reliable sources of warmth?
Getting the most attention is “Fortitude,” a 12-episode TV drama debuting Jan. 29 on British and U.S. networks. The Arctic Journal declares it “may be the most anticipated TV series ever to be set in the Arctic” and that “location is everything.”
The location is not named Longyearbyen – the series’ title is used as a substitute – but everything about the fictional town deliberately replicates the real one. Except what the residents are doing, of course, as “someone is killed in a ‘horrific crime’ and a cop from the U.K. is whisked into town to help sort it out,” according to the newspaper. Shockingly, there will also be some kind of surreal science twist.
Among the stars is Michael Gambon, 74, best known for his role in the “Harry Potter” movies, who plays “a powerful, intelligent, independent and proud” photographer, according to a description at the show’s website. But his longevity, both physical and residential, may not mean much in the face of current events.
“Fortutide” was filmed primarily in Iceland for cost and logistical reasons, although Producer Simon Donald and others traveled to Svalbard to cast the “extras.”
“Polar bears is the other thing we really wanted,” he told the Fresno Bee.
Those into real-life drama in real-life places can get their fill with “North Pole Ice Airport,” three-part documentary about the Barneo ice camp debuting this month on Britain’s Channel 5 network. The opening episode, shown for the first time last Wednesday, features Russian parachuting onto the ice at 89 degrees latitude north and setting up the camp in temperatures of minus 40 degrees. Subsequent episodes, airing Jan. 28 and 29, will feature various international groups at the camp attempting to reach the North Pole.
“Among the polar hopefuls are six U.K. office workers who are trekking to the North Pole to raise £250,000 for a children’s health charity,” an official description of the show notes. “A group of Japanese tourists are also on the way by helicopter for a luxury trip to the Pole.”
The antithesis of luxury can be observed in a 54-minute documentary about Barentsburg titled “Grumant: The Island of Communism,” an award-winning 2014 film now available free on YouTube. The latter part of the title is supposedly what tourists call the settlement, but whether that’s true or not the film itself captures a remarkably candid look at all aspects of modern life in a community experiencing immense struggles.
There’s relatively little dialogue, allowing those not proficient in Russia to follow the constantly shifting scenes between cheerless coal mine work, a medical emergency, social gatherings and domestic settings.