In a milestone move, production-distribution powerhouse Fremantle has unveiled its first fully-financed high-end factual original, “Arctic Drift,” the story of Mosaic, the biggest Arctic climate research expedition.
A two-hour documentary, described by Fremantle international CEO Jens Richter as “a scientific adventure film,” “Arctic Drift” is being launched on the market this week as Fremantle drives ever more into high-profile non-fiction entertainment for a global market.
“Arctic Drift” is produced by Wild Blue Media, a London-based production company backed by Fremantle, whose recent productions includes non-fiction miniseries “Ancient China from Above,” for National Geographic, CICC and Amazon Prime Video.
Now in post-production, “Arctic Drift” is produced and directed by Ashley Morris, whose works takes in “Ancient China from Above,” observational documentaries such as “Harrow: A Very British School,” and titles that embedded him within communities in remote areas of Africa and Asia.
None have been so remote, however, as the over-500 scientists and crew on the Polarstern, a 12,000 ton German icebreaker which was home over 2019-20 to the Mosaic expedition.
“Arctic Drift” follows the ship for an entire year as its scientists undertake vital research in the most hostile and unknown terrain on earth. Ten years in preparation, costing $150 million, Mosaic spent 390 days, 150 without sunlight, 600 miles from the nearest land, locked in ice on board the ship. It moved with the Arctic ice flow, circumnavigating 1,550 miles, advancing seven kilometers a day.
During the journey, scientists took to the ice to build research stations as much as 25 miles from the ship, so that results were not influenced by Polarstern’s presence. They battled -40C temperatures, storms and the dangers of the very phenomenon under study: Melting ice and sudden chasmic cracks in the ice.
“When we asked the Alfred Wegener Institute what it wanted to get out of the expedition its answer was: ‘First of all, we want to get everybody out, alive and well.’ At its heart, Mosaic is an expedition and expeditions mean adventure, which is entertaining by definition,” said Richter.
Shot with 4K Arri Alexa cinematography, four main cameras, four drones, underwater cameras and ROVs, GoPros and time-lapse cameras, “Arctic Drift” is now being shaped in editing. It is seen through the eyes of its scientists, brought into personal human focus by their diary cams and on board and retrospective master interviews.
Mosaic also marks urgent scientific enquiry. “Last year and this, we’ve seen droughts, welling sea-levels, flash floods and storms. Australia was on fire. California was on fire,” said Richter. “The big part of the secret lies in the poles. Cold poles stabilize weather patterns so as the temperatures change, the weather patterns become more unstable,” he added.
Currently, polar temperatures are rising more than two times faster than other parts of the world. White ice caps reflect back sun. Lose them and sun rays go straight into dark water. Taking readings over a full year – a historic first – Mosaic aims to establish climate process, coupling atmosphere, ocean, sea ice and ecosystem.
“To most of us, the Arctic seems distant and largely irrelevant to our everyday lives, but it’s at the epicenter of climate change. What’s happening there right now affects each and every one of us,” said Morris.
News of “Arctic Drift” comes as Fremantle has sold Samuel L. Jackson docuseries “Enslaved” to 130 countries. It bowed to bullish ratings on BBC2, snagging an 8.6% share, up 30% plus on channel primetime averages, 75% in 16-34s.
Fremantle now aims to build as a premier home to high-end factual entertainment.
“12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor is to narrate “Day Zero,” about the world’s water shortage, co-directed by Emmy-winner Kevin Sim, with Fremantle distributing outside China. Hulu and BBC Three have jointly commissioned Naked, a Fremantle company, to produce “Planet Sex,” exploring human sexuality and hosted by Cara Delevingne.
“When you really learn a lot and combine with characters and adventure, factual can become a mass phenomenon. It’s not niche at all,” said Richter.
“Arctic Drift” is an international version of the high-end doc that was developed through Fremantle’s German label, UFA Show & Factual, which secured exclusive access to film Mosaic. A local version of the show, “Expedition Arktis,” focusing more on German characters on the expedition, will premiere on German public broadcaster ARD.