Picture imperfect: Time-lapse short film gives dark meaning to changing at a glacial pace


Warning: This article contains spoilers, which can’t really be helped since the film is about…spoilers.

A pretty collection of time-lapse photo animations might seduce viewers seeing Svalbard for the first time, but it’s hardly groundbreaking material for maybe the first five minutes of the seven-minute short film. As such, those whose attention wanders may miss out on a pivotal moment when a ship zooms rather hastily into a bay (although a nice sound cue may provide a needed jolt).

What happens next is a series of animated sketches imposed over the time-lapse photography that convey one of the dark sides of humanity. But Endre Før Gjermundsen, a glacier researcher at The University Centre in Svalbard who is the film’s photographer, said the intention is inspiring conversation rather than condemnation.

“It’s not just for illustrating garbage,” he said. “It’s not against oil. It’s a metaphor to show human impact on nature.”

The film, the title of which translates in English to “Svalbard’s Glaciers – A Popular Scientific and Artistic Journey,” was screened before a matinee last weekend at Kulturhuset. Gjermundsen said he hopes the film will continue to be shown as a preview, plans to explore commercial possibilities at festivals and will eventually be posted online.

The photography was shot during two two-week periods at and near Nordenskioldbreen. Gjermundsen said a total of 15,000 photos at a rate of 24 frames a second are in the film.

“You hardly sleep much because you have to be awake when there’s cool light,” he said.

Editing those thousands of photos is a far more complex challenge, Gjermundsen said.

“It’s really time-consuming,” he said. “You have to work really hard for those few seconds you get.”

The scenics that comprise most of the movie range from caves under the glacier to sunsets on the mountains. There are multiple moving elements in almost all of them.

“I kind of wanted to squeeze more than one cool element at a time out of it,” Gjermundsen said. “Not just the sky moving, but also something dramatic on the water and more.”

The pristine scenery and accompanying light instrumentals composed by local musician Liv Mari Schei come to a rather abrupt halt after the ship appears in the bay. The multitude of motion then shifts to Stefan Nordlie’s slightly crude stop motion art– and appropriately industrial sounds – that “construct” soot- and oil-polluting facilities of the present and (possible) future. The ending doesn’t fade to black do much as detonate to it.

Funding for the film was provided by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund.