Documentary Releases: This Cold Life (2017) - Reviewed

The last time we saw documentary filmmaker Darren Mann, he and his co-director became the targets of the very Chinese regime they set out to investigate.  A year later however, Mann set his sights on a very different region with his new film This Cold Life: Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost settlement located in Svalbard, Norway.  Three-hundred miles off of the North Pole, the 2,200 residents living there have to deal with three months of nighttime darkness and temperatures down to 40 below zero.  Much like Werner Herzog’s documentary Happy People, This Cold Life zeroes in on several residents living in the desolate chilly region who are just tickled pink to talk about what it means to live in the Longyearbyen.

Initially a thriving coal mine location before going under and transforming the outpost to a new industry dependent on tourism, This Cold Life presents a smorgasbord of characters including but not limited to coal miners, heavy drinkers and dogsledding breeders.  Surrounded by mountains, glaciers and outnumbered by the polar bear population, the setting will remind some viewers of the Barrow, Alaska set horror film 30 Days of Night with respect to how people have adapted to the extreme cold and perpetual darkness.  But life is far from gloomy in the Longyearbyen with the film’s generally chipper tone and upbeat outlook of the residents who learned to live with the cold mountains and how similar their lives are to our own.
Visually this is a breathtakingly shot and edited documentary dripping from corner to corner of the frame with astonishing vistas of tranquility.  If there’s a film to demonstrate the capabilities of your newly bought 4K television, it is most certainly this one.  The film’s ethereal score rendered by Haana complements the stunning images of a small village city surrounded by mountains and glaciers.  Taking a trip through the Longyearbyen for roughly an hour and a half is enough to change one’s outlook on our own way of suburban or city life to see a society functioning while almost completely removed from the rest of the world. 

While This Cold Life won’t necessarily make you join the residents chilly and distant landscape, it will likely make you want to take a visit there if only to experience their way of life for yourself.  Life is hard for those living in the Longyearbyen but those immersed in it wouldn’t have it any other way.  For the time being however, this beautiful and evocative documentary film will take you as close to the northernmost remote city in the world as possible.

--Andrew Kotwicki