Colorado firefighter’s Antarctic experiences captured in documentary

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Photo: 'A Year on Ice' featureWinter in Colorado may be frigid, but imagine temperatures that feel like 112 degrees below zero with the wind blowing hard.

Colorado Springs firefighter David Prutsman has lived to tell about it.

In 2004, he went to Antarctica to work with the fire department at the United States scientific research center located at McMurdo Station, an outpost in Antarctica. On and off, he lived there for about two years.

“That first breath is like a sledgehammer to the face,” Prutsman says. “It’s your wake-up call. It’s, 'OK, you’re here now.' This is the real deal.”

A new documentary, “Antarctica: A Year on Ice,” follows Prutsman and about a dozen other people living and working at McMurdo Station.

The result is a glimpse of what life is like in the harshest environment on Earth. The film has reaped nearly two dozen awards, including “Best Documentary” at the Calgary International, Twin Cities and Orlando film festivals.

Photo: 'A Year on Ice' DP 2The primary reason stations like McMurdo exist on the southern continent is to conduct research on topics from climate change to marine biology. As for Prutsman, he was there as part of the infrastructure, helping to keep the station running safely.

“There’s still places here where no human has ever set foot,” the documentary’s director, Anthony Powell, says towards the beginning of the film.

Powell talks about the challenges of filming in such extreme conditions. He spent 10 years working the film and had to invent new techniques as he battled dying batteries, frozen screens and strong winds.

Prutsman draws parallels between life at McMurdo and going away to college -- people live in dormitories and eat together in cafeterias. There's even a weight room, library and pottery studio.

Prutsman says he fell in love with the continent's beauty and the intimate community at the station. Since returning to Colorado, the firefighter says he dreams about his time at the edge of the world and hopes to return someday.

“I try and explain the Antarctic experience to people back home,” Prutsman says in the film. “And they love hearing about it and what it’s like, but they will never fully comprehend it.”

“Antarctica: A Year on Ice” screened at Landmark Chez Artiste in Denver on Dec. 12. It will screen again Thursday through Saturday at the Dairy Center for the Arts’ Boedecker Theatre in Boulder.

Audio from this interview will post after noon.