[DCEFF] 'Exposure' (2021) Film Review

Sydney Bollinger revies 'Exposure' (2021), the story of 11 women who set out on what may be the last ski adventure to the North Pole.

[DCEFF] 'Exposure' (2021) Film Review

No one has ever said an extreme expedition would be easy.

Exposure (2021) is the story of 11 women who set out on what may be the last ski adventure to the North Pole. The women face an insurmountable challenge marked by adventuring inexperience, climate change’s unforgiving effects on the landscape, and misogyny. Led by veteran explorer Felicity Ashton, the expedition team — made up of Western and Arab women — head out into frigid endless daylight in an attempt to prove to themselves and the world that they can complete the journey.

Director Holly Morris (The Babushkas of Chernobyl) gets intimate with her subjects, ensuring audiences that this film isn’t just watching the expedition play out, especially because there are many cultural factors influencing the story of the trek. Morris uses an all-women crew to work on the project, which creates a more open, welcoming atmosphere evident in the subjects’ comfort with each other and in front of the camera. Although at this point Exposure shouldn’t be a landmark film, the choice to have an all-women crew film an all-women expedition is rather groundbreaking.

Exposure definitely had some standout subjects, including Muslim chaplain and mother Misba, whose husband teased her about the trip and her ability to complete it. Her narration and voice is raw and honest as she muddles through intense training — in both frigid and hot conditions — and eventually begins on the expedition. Her resilient spirit and steadfast faith shine through and as one of the major protagonists of the documentary, Misba carries much of the emotional weight. Another stand-out, Mariam, has one of the most compelling storylines of the documentary.

A woman wearing a fur hood and other warm clothing looks off camera. She is in the North Pole. Snow is in the background.

Unfortunately, the film has to fit in a lot to effectively tell the story of the expedition from start to finish, meaning that some of the explorers are not as visible as others. Additionally, the film feels a bit front-loaded, especially with the establishing the voices of the different explorers, Ashton’s goals for the trip, and documenting the training sessions and at-home prep of the women. By the time the women do — spoiler alert — reach the North Pole, it doesn’t necessarily feel earned from a narrative perspective. Exposure wraps up quickly to the point that some of the more mundane exploration dramas, like the relationships between the expedition team, are not given breathing room. At only 75 minutes, it feels like the film had plenty of time to spare, especially in building out its cast of explorers.

Even still, the achievement at the end deserves to be celebrated and seeing the all-women expedition team rejoice that they had, in fact, completed the trek is a joyous moment. Exposure is a film meant to inspire — and it does. The women on the expedition were all normal; some had never even skied before. Women and girls watching will feel a sense of pride and perhaps even think that they, too, could start a crazy adventure.

A Note on the Climate Crisis in Exposure

Like many adventure documentaries, the effects of the climate crisis linger in the background of Exposure. Ashton and the other explorers mention melting sea ice and its effects on their trek. At times, temperatures are warmer than they should be. These issues are obvious cause for concern and it does seem that Morris wants to tell this story — the audience is repeatedly reminded that Ashton’s expedition could be the last of its kind because of the rapidly declining sea ice.

Despite this, climate change’s role in the film is unclear. It doesn’t need to be the primary subject, but its positioning in the film’s marketing and even by the film’s protagonists prepares viewers for more engagement with the issue of climate change, either from Ashton or the documentary’s other subjects.

In no way does this mean the film isn’t worth watching — it is — but viewers looking for extensive, meaningful engagement with the ramifications of climate change on outdoor adventuring will not find it here.

‘Breaking Trail’ (2021) Film Review
Sydney Bollinger reviews Breaking Trail (2021), part of DCEFF30. The film follows the journey of Emily Ford, the first woman and first person of color to complete Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail in the winter.
Movies for a Cold Winter
in which Sydney explains why winter is so isolating, Rebecca sings the praises of SnowPiercer (the TV show), and Kati recommends the five coldest books she’s ever read.