The Great White Silence is a breathtakingly beautiful record of Captain Scott’s legendary expedition to the South Pole (1910-13) filmed by photographer Herbert Ponting. As a Conservation Specialist at the BFI National Archive, I lived and breathed this film for almost a year, examining all the material shot by Ponting, as part of the restoration project to bring the footage back to life.
It felt a privilege to handle the original negatives that Ponting had shot at the South Pole – and a responsibility to do them justice. It was like a jigsaw, attempting to match hundreds of short rolls of film, even trying to identify individual penguins (I made numerous sketches!) to select the best material for each shot. The restoration team used a combination of the latest photochemical and digital techniques – and also returned colour to the film, following Ponting’s tinting and toning instructions, which he had scratched on to the film.
It was first screened at the London Film Festival in 2010, with Simon Fisher Turner’s extraordinary new score, incorporating the sound of the bell of the Terra Nova (the expedition ship), as well as ambient silence recorded in Scott’s hut at the base camp.