Woman and the Glacier: Thirty years of solitude
by Marta Bałaga
- In his new documentary, recently awarded at the Vilnius Film Festival, Audrius Stonys turns his attention to a Lithuanian scientist who has spent 30 years studying climate change on a glacier
In his new documentary Woman and the Glacier, recently named Best Lithuanian Film and Best Film in the Baltic Gaze Competition at the Vilnius Film Festival (see the news), director Audrius Stonys turns his attention to Aušra Revutaite, a Lithuanian scientist who has spent 30 years in almost complete isolation, studying climate change on the Tuyuk-Su glacier, suspended in between Kazakhstan and the autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang. Residing 3,500 metres above sea level in a research station that, to put it mildly, has seen better days, Revutaite quietly examines the changes caused by the outside world – invisible to most, but not to someone who knows where to look.
From the very first scenes of Woman and the Glacier, it becomes perfectly clear that instead of focusing on the peculiarity of Revutaite’s situation, Stonys revels in her solitary existence. A voluntary Robinson Crusoe with only two playful pets to call her Friday, hers is a life punctuated by routine and overwhelming silence. Interestingly enough, it’s exactly that silence, broken only by the sound of dripping water and the relentless beat of her seismograph, that Stonys decides to respect. Devoid of explanatory voiceovers and talking heads – or, for that matter, any words at all – with the only music coming courtesy of a local artist, Woman and the Glacier is made by someone who has picked up the camera to observe, not to judge. Stonys’ life-long fascination with Sergei Loznitsa has never been felt more acutely.
It’s a fitting approach, too, as his documentary is not just another story about a person trying to survive in an unusual environment; after years of careful research and observation, Revutaite has pretty much become her surroundings. Alert to the glacier’s every movement, she is constantly looking for signals it may be sending her way.
And this is how things have been for years: by interweaving Revutaite’s everyday work with archival footage of her predecessors, Stonys acknowledges the people who, in a way, adopted the role of almost-mythical guardians, ready to react at the first sign of trouble. Although it may seem that not much has changed since those first visitors set up their camps in the Tian Shan mountains, this is clearly not the case. One look at the melting ice on the surface makes us realise that much.
Still, Woman and the Glacier is less a sobering commentary on the current state of our planet’s environment than an unassuming, surprisingly uplifting portrayal of a woman who may have been forgotten by the world, but who still manages to make her mark – however small it might seem to the untrained eye.
Produced by Radvilė Šumilė (UKU Films) and Riho Västrik (Vesilind), Woman and the Glacier was financed by the Lithuanian Film Center, Estonian Film Institute and Estonian Cultural Endowment. The world sales are handled by UKU Films.