For two decades Holly Morris has been telling and advocating cross-cultural stories for women on the global stage. She is an internationally renowned director, author and presenter. His latest feature, “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award for Director, the first of nearly two dozen awards received before being broadcast worldwide. . The film’s story, based on her print journalism, is about a rebellious community of women living within Ukraine’s radioactive “exclusion zone” and is also the basis of her popular TED Talk.
“Exposure” begins screening at the DOC NYC Film Festival 2021 on November 13th. The festival runs from 10 to 28 November.
W&H: Describe the film in your own words.
HM: As the Arctic ice cap melts, reaching the North Pole has become increasingly dangerous, but an expedition of women from the Arab world and the West, led by explorer Felicity Aston, has set itself the daring goal of skiing in the North Pole. This bold and unprecedented group tackles everything from freeze and polar bear threats, to sexism and insecurity in an intimate story of resilience, survival and global citizenship, in what may be the last ice expedition to the top of the the world.
W&H: What attracted you to this story?
HM: Diverse, global and feminist stories unfolding in the crucible / elixir of the natural world have been my wheelhouse for a couple of decades. So when I heard that this group was joining up for an ice expedition to the top of the world, I knew a film needed to be made. It quickly became clear that this expedition was unprecedented, a first in so many ways. Eventually, many of the women became the first of their nations to reach the North Pole.
The stakes were very high from the start. Given the climate crisis, I also knew that this team could be among the very last to have a real chance to reach the North Pole. Indeed, the season following their expedition, climate change and the geopolitical conflict between Ukraine and Russia prevented the construction of the Barneo ice station, canceling all attempts at the pole. Then, in 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 wiped out the polar season before it even started.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after watching the movie?
HM: I believe that when women come to fully believe in themselves, especially in action and outdoors, it can be a catalyst. We can take the reins, work beyond borders of all kinds and pave the way towards a future where we adapt, with compassion and fairness, to the changing climate. Ideally, these are some of the things people are thinking about after watching the movie or maybe you’ve just enjoyed a well-told, character-driven adventure movie!
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
HM: Ours was the most ambitious North Pole production I know: no dogs, no snowmobiles, no support, no men. Our all-female film crew, including heroic cinematographers Ingeborg Jakobsen and Kathryn Barrows, shoot in a time of -39F (there are no generators out there). My vision was to shoot 100% truth, without narration. We used multiple 4K cameras, including a drone and 360 units, but were on a very tight budget.
The film crew was also skiing, battling a dangerous semi-frozen Arctic. The squad pulled sleds full of equipment, swapping if necessary: one would shoot while the other would shoot. Microphone and monitor a team of eleven women when they’re so covered it’s hard to know who’s who, no matter what they’re saying. This made it incredibly difficult to understand the points of the story. This was also the case with training in Iceland (and Oman). The audio was a constant problem to solve, struggling with the cold and the incessant hiss of the camp stoves that could not be turned off because they literally made the difference between life and death. Oh, and in the Arctic there was the possibility of a polar bear attack … Surely this production risk was not covered by the key “man” insurance.
W&H: How did you finance your film? Share some information about how you made the film.
HM: Three investors; half a dozen significant donors (tax deductible through our tax sponsor, Women Make Movies); 50 grant applications leading to four successful infusions of funds (Rogovy, NY Women’s Fund, The Redford Center, NY State Council for the Arts). Of course, sweat equity and this project have given new meaning to that term.
The cinematographers were the real heroines of this story. How they skied backwards and turned the same way was a next level, giving rise to sub-zero analogies between Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
W&H: What prompted you to become a director?
HM: I thought that bringing my political ideas and passions to the screen – and a commitment to traditionally excluded voices – would create an opportunity of exponential impact. At the beginning of my career I was a writer and a book publisher; my move to cinema was about amplifying impact.
W&H: What is the best and worst advice you have received?
HM: The most memorable advice I ever received was from my grandmother, who made me realize that all good stories must have Religion, Reality, Sex and Mystery, and must also be delivered in the most efficient package possible. “Exposure” has 3 out of 4. Not bad.
W&H: What advice do you give to other directors?
HM: Never wear open shoes because you will always bang your feet against the door. Steel-toed boots will keep you in the right place.
W&H: Name your favorite female movie and why.
HM: The good news has to be that I find myself thinking less than ever about this sort of thing because our numbers are really increasing. / directing / publishing his first feature film.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you maintaining creativity, and if so, how?
HM: Luckily “Exposure” was all shot when the pandemic hit us all, so being relatively alone in a small dark room felt right. My creativity has been hugely successful. I am not one of those people who have dug deep and discovered my creative well. I sunk into the cable news and was stunned for a year, only now coming back to life.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of under-representing people of color on screen and behind the scenes and reinforcing and creating negative stereotypes. What actions do you think should be taken to make the doc world more inclusive?
HM: How about women, and women of color in particular, control the narratives and purse strings. It seems like the sure way to fairness.