This latest installment in ABC’s “World of Discovery,” written and produced by Steve Eder and narrated in engaging style by Linda Hunt, is chock-full of fascinating information– an excellent example of how a web can create challenging and thought-provoking documentary programming.
In this case, producers have gone to the outer reaches of Siberia, a bitterly cold and often dark environment where, as with most places in the world today, a battle is brewing over the plunder of the environment.
Though the haunting memories of Stalin’s prison camps are ever-present–10 million Soviets died in Siberian camps–Siberia represents a lot of things to a lot of people; this special goes a long way toward showing the diversity in people’s views toward Siberia.
For one thing, Siberia is rich in oil, natural gas and gold deposits, which the Russian government continues to exploit.
It is also the home to tribes of primitive people, like the Chukchi, who are descendants of the Eskimos; they still live in animal skin teepees in sub-zero weather, herding reindeer for their food source.
The plight of the Chukchi–who are increasingly being pushed from their homeland for mining operations–is cleverly compared to other stories of the region, such as the crewmen and women who live aboard the nuclear-powered ice-breaker, the Arctica.
These men and women live in constant danger of nuclear leaks and the ship’s breakdown, given the icebeds that threaten to sink stalled ships. Yet the ice-breaker is the only reliable source of food supplies for the 35,000 who live in Siberia’s mining outpost, and the only ship that can travel the icebound passageways.
Producer/writer Eder has done a superb job of giving all the stories even-handed presentation, the result being a composite picture of how people cope in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.
That, combined with Masakazu Fukuhara’s beautiful and haunting camerawork, not to mention the footage taken from the National Archives, makes for fascinating television.