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Ron Naveen counts penguins amid glorious surroundings in THE PENGUIN COUNTERS

THE PENGUIN COUNTERS (Peter Getzels & Harriet Gordon, 2016)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, April 21

Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon’s The Penguin Counters arrives at Cinema Village just in time for World Penguin Day on April 25, which celebrates the cute and cuddly black-and-white (and often yellow) aquatic birds. However, the tuxedoed animals are facing a major challenge, as climate change threatens their very existence. The film follows Ron Naveen and his small team — Thomas Mueller of Frankfurt’s Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, research ecologist Steve Forrest, Stony Brook assistant professor Heather Lynch, and PhD candidates Mike Polito and Paula Casanovas — as they go from Argentina to Deception Island, tracking three varieties of penguins and following in the footsteps of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led a famously treacherous journey to the Antarctic in the first decade of the nineteenth century aboard the aptly named Discovery. In a bit of serendipitous luck, on a cruise ship he’s essentially hitchhiking on, Naveen meets Angie Butler, the biographer of Shackleton’s right-hand man, Frank Wild, who is transporting Wild’s ashes to South Georgia so they can be buried next to Shackleton’s remains, and Naveen joins her on her mission. Naveen, the founder and president of Oceanites, is gathering information for the Antarctic Site Inventory project, which has been detailing the plight of oceanic birds and the ecosystem for more than twenty years. “We’re not explorers, climbers, or athletes,” Naveen explains in a message about the film. “The weather we face is grueling. The terrain is hostile, and we’re only kitted out with golf-ball-sized tally-whackers and waterproof spiral notebooks. But our data has been instrumental in the formation of policies among polar scientists and the fifty member nations of the Antarctic Treaty Organization.”


Documentary reveals effects climate change is having on the penguin population

“Penguins are my passion!” Naveen declares at the start of the film. “And why? Because penguins are indicators of ocean health, and they’re ultimately going to be sentinels of change.” Of course, penguins are also simply adorable, so the film is loaded with heartwarming shots of the flightless birds, as well as gorgeous panoramas of the Antarctic, lovingly photographed by Getzels and Erik Osterholm. And yes, there are scenes of his dedicated team counting nests in spectacular locations. A former government lawyer, Naveen’s cheerfulness about what he does is infectious, even in the face of dwindling numbers of penguins and the onslaught of climate change. But still, they’re just so darn cute. . . . After screening at film festivals all over the globe, The Penguin Counters opens April 21 at Cinema Village, with Getzels, Gordon, and Naveen participating in Q&As following the 7:15 shows April 21–26.

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