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Australian filmmaker JOHN WEILEY (Antarctica, The Edge) is making his next IMAX format film about the sun. He is currently shooting the amazing phenomenon known as ‘aurora borealis’ in Greenland, and sent us this exclusive report.

Right now I am in Qaqortoq.....most easily pronounced if you do a duck imitation. The sky and the land are indistinguishable.....a near perfect white out. The tiny "hotel" is fitted out like a modern prison. Actually there are no prisons in Greenland and it is easy to see why. No planes flying today, no roads out of town. But you have to admire what the Danes have done here. The Greenlandic aborigines have problems with alcohol but are healthy, well educated, well housed and have jobs at all levels in the infrastructure. Food and fuel are the same price in tiny remote hunter gatherer communities as in Denmark. Makes an Australian feel well earned shame.

"an awesome effect"

Yesterday was fabulous - utterly blue sky, the sea black where it wasn't frozen over. We were filming the thousand year old ruins of the Viking settlement near here. Part of my story of the sun. The Vikings were unlucky enough to discover the place during an unusually warm moment in the earth’s history - hence the wildly inappropriate name - founded a colony here for four or five thousand people (roughly the current population). Then the weather went back to normal. They starved. None survived.

Before we came here we were in the far north at an isolated research station filming the aurora borealis - the weird curtains of light in the night sky that are caused by the solar wind as it eddys around the earth's magnetic field. It’s an awesome effect - the scale is incredible - the curtains flick across thousands of kilometres of sky in seconds like immense theatrical drapes whipped by a wind machine. The Scots called them the faery dancers and indeed it is as though they are dancing. A detail that was for me gobsmacking - the patterns are identical and simultaneous at both poles....... It is incredibly difficult to catch on film because it is both fast moving and , for a movie camera, relatively faint. (The human eye is six hundred times as sensitive to light as the fastest film.)

"amazing pictures"

We have the best equipment available - the only wide angle f1 lens in the world and 800ASA film which has just become available for 70mm films so we hope we have amazing pictures - though this being a 15/70 Imax format film our rushes have to go to LA for processing and we wont get a report - let alone see them - until long after we have left Greenland. Could be worse. For the Antarctica film we were shooting for three months at a time without knowing whether the camera was even exposing the film.

From here we go to a village in Poland - an ancient fortress monastery on the shores of the Baltic - home of Nicholas Kopernick who was audacious enough to defy Aristotle and one thousand five hundred years of perfect scientific and religous certainty and opine that the sun was at the center of the solar system and that the earth moved around the sun. It is really hard to imagine the modern equivalent of the intellectual leap that he made.

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John Weiley and Bob Eather on location for Solarmax, with ‘Bruce’, the 70mm camera specially developed for the project by Eather.

Pathfinder solar powered aeroplane, which John filmed for Solarmax in Hawaii.


Title of film: Solarmax
Production Co: JAVA Films (John Weiley’s company)
Finance: private investors plus a grant from the National Science Foundation of the USA
Distributor: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (also distributed Weiley’s Antarctica)
Writer/Producer/Director: John Weiley
Co-Producer: Dr Robert Eather
Cinematography: Tom Cowan & Paul Ree
Production Manager: Lois Randall
Editor: Nicholas Holmes
Composer: Nigel Westlake
Audio: Audio Loc
Release date: early 2000


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