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Director : LUC JACQUET

Status: Completed

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Short synopsis

Each year, thousands of emperor penguins abandon the safety of their deep blue ocean home and travel hundreds of miles across treacherous and forbidding Antarctic ice floes to breed, braving sub-zero temperatures and untold dangers. Rich in courage and humour, mystery and breath-taking spectacle, THE EMPEROR’S JOURNEY is the epic story of their heroic struggle for survival.

Long synopsis

Each winter, alone in the pitiless ice deserts of Antarctica, deep in the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, a truly remarkable journey takes place, as it has done for millenia. Emperor penguins in their thousands abandon the deep blue security of their ocean home and clamber onto the frozen land to begin their long journey to the continent’sdesolate interior, a region so bleak, so extreme, it supports no other life.

In single file the penguins march, blinded by blizzards, buffeted by 250 k.p.h. gales. Resolute, indomitable, driven by the overpowering urge to reproduce, to assure the survival of the species.

Guided by instinct, by shadows beneath the treacherous ice, by the otherworldly radiance of the Southern Cross, they head unerringly for their traditional breeding ground where – after a ritual courtship of intricate dances and delicate manoeuvring, accompanied by a cacophony of ecstatic song – they will pair off into monogamous couples and mate. The days grow shorter, the weather ever more bitter. The females remain long enough only to lay. Once this is accomplished, exhausted by weeks without nourishment, they begin their return journey across 200 kilometres of ice-field to the fish-filled seas. The journey is hazardous, and rapacious sea leopards a predatory threat.

The male emperors are left behind to guard and hatch the precious eggs, which they cradle at all times on their claws. Subjected to -40°C temperatures and the terrible trials of the polar winter, they too face great dangers.

After four long months during which the males eat nothing, the eggs begin to hatch. Once they have emerged into their ghostly white new world, the chicks can survive for only 48 hours on their own food reserves. If their mothers are late returning from the ocean with food, the newly-hatched young will die. Once the families are reunited, the roles reverse, the mothers remaining with their new young while their mates head, exhausted and starved, for the sea, and food.

While the adults fish, the chicks face the ever-present threat of attack by rapacious giant petrels. As the weather grows warmer and the ice floes finally begin to crack and melt, the adults will repeat their arduous journey countless times, marching many hundreds of kilometres over some of the most treacherous territory on Earth, until the chicks are ready to take their first faltering dive into the deep blue waters of the Antarctic ocean. Standing proud on the ice frontier, the emperor embodies the most powerful moments of existence. Love and solidarity combine in the heroic struggle for life.