'The Penguin Counters': Film Review

Courtesy of First Run Features
As always, the penguins are the main attraction.

Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon's documentary chronicles the efforts of a team of biologists in Antarctica.

Penguins are the marquee attraction of nature films. Even when they’re in as unremarkable a film as Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon’s documentary chronicling the efforts of scientist Ron Naveen and his team to document the numbers of the photogenic birds in Antarctica. Although imparting an important message about the devastating effects of global warming, The Penguin Counters is too rambling and diffuse to have significant impact while lacking the accessible qualities that would make it appeal to younger audiences.

There’s no denying Naveen’s passion for his vocation, especially when he’s prone to making such declarations as “Penguins are my passion!” Inspired by the exploits of pioneering explorer Ernest Shackleton, Naveen, a former lawyer, has devoted nearly three decades to counting penguin populations. Not surprisingly, his findings indicate that global warming has reduced their numbers significantly.

Despite its brief running time, the film seems unnecessarily padded with such digressions as a lengthy segment concerning the reburial of the remains of famed Antarctic explorer Frank Wild next to the grave of his former associate Shackleton. There are also far too many scenes showing Naveen and his fellow field biologists enthusiastically sharing large meals together during their lengthy expedition.

“I don’t understand how a few guys can count 60,000 of anything,” comments one observer. It certainly seems like a daunting task, and The Penguin Counters is most effective when simply chronicling the tireless efforts of Naveen and his team. Featuring gorgeous photography of its scenic locations and an adorable cast including numerous varieties of penguins and sea lions, the film doesn’t downplay the challenges of dealing with a harsh landscape. But it also conveys the infectious enthusiasm of the men as they perform their vital tasks, to the point where it serves as an effective recruitment tool that seems more necessary than ever now that the highest echelons of the U.S. government have officially declared their opposition to the idea of climate change.

Production company: Getzels Gordon Productions
Distributor: First Run Features
Directors-screenwriters-producers: Peter Getzels, Harriet Gordon
Directors of photography: Peter Getzels, Erik Osterholm, Harriet Gordon
Editor: Catherine Shields
Composer: Robert Neufeld

70 minutes