Adventure Siberia, 90 minutes documentary

Workers on the Trans-Siberian Railway construction. Screenshot from the recent Siberia documentary

Workers on the Trans-Siberian Railway construction. Screenshot from the recent Siberia documentary

TV channel ZDF (second German state channel) screened over the holiday a two-part documentary on Siberia and the fascination that this huge land mass has had on researchers, business people and other adventurers. The programme can be watched online via the media library of the TV channel as PART ONE and PART TWO. The film introduces to some figures of Siberian research starting with Georg Wilhelm Steller in the 19th century and ending with contemporary researchers from vulcanology, nature conservation and – anthropology. Anthropology research team member Florian Stammler was one of these figures. The programme also comes with lots of accompanying material on the website, among others also links to Arctic Centre and arcticanthropology.

What we do not get from this programme is much insight on contemporary research contents. It rather focuses on the ways in which the Russian North shapes the character of people who work there, and is very person-centered. Consequently, opinions on the value of this programme differ sharply, from enthusiasm to harsh criticism. However, it gives alongside portraits of particular people broad information on the history of research and also Siberian ‘opening up’ by westerners. For example, we find out some geological history that explains why Siberia is so rich in sub-surface resources, and historical glimpses to one of the world’s largest construction projects, the Trans-Siberian railway. I myself have a problem with the succession of scenes in the programme, which switches back and forth between history and contemporary issues, between east and west, and also between filming with different people in ways that I find neither logical nor comfortable to watch. Moreover, the only role that indigenous people have in the whole programme is through some shots from my own fieldwork on Yamal. I would have liked to see the role of our fieldwork friends much more emphasized.
But anyhow, it’s a major documentary work that gives a broad portrait of the geographically largest Arctic research region.

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