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Trending: The Black Snow of Norilsk, Russia

By David Schonauer   Wednesday June 6, 2018


Wintertime temperatures can drop to -55 degrees in Norilsk, Russia.

And, note British directors James Newton and Edward Edwards, the sun doesn’t rise for 40 days.

It's also a toxic, deadly place.

Norilsk, located above the arctic circle in Siberia, is an industrial city where many of the more than 160,000 residents work for the world’s largest mining and metallurgy complex, Norilsk Nickel, producing platinum, nickel, and cobalt. Norilsk is responsible for two percent of the planet’s total CO2 emissions, according to the filmmakers. Here, in Russia's coldest and most polluted place, the death rate is ten years shorter than in the rest of the county.

Norilsk is closed off to non-Russians, but Newton and Edwards managed to go there on the last day of sunlight before winter descended to document life in the city. Their short film “captures the stories of residents who grew up between the bleak masses of Soviet-era apartment blocks and its harsh, industrial landscape,” they recently told Nowness.

The film, which we feature below, paints an eerie portrait of a strange, killing place at the edge of the world, where a glimpse of a man wearing just a tee shirt is a memorable occasion.

Newton and Edwards are not the only filmmakers and journalists to visit the city. In December, The New York Times  featured images from Norilsk made by photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev.

As The Times noted, the history of Norilsk is no less brutal than its present-day reality: The city was once part of Stalin’s Gulag, where some 250,000 prisoners died from cold, starvation or overwork.

Russian photographer Elena Chernyshova’s World Press Photo-winning series “Days of Night/Nights of Day” also looked at Norilsk.

Another recent glimpse of Norilsk comes from London- and Naples, Italy-based documentary filmmaker Victoria Fiore, who spent two years trying to get access to the city. “It is really impossible to emphasize just how otherworldly this place was,” Fiore told The Atlantic, which featured her short film My Deadly Beautiful City. The film was originally produced for The New York Times’s OpDocs series.

Fiore’s film finds a bizarre irony: “[M]ost people, including the city's nuns and head doctors, claim that those from Norilsk have better health,” Fiore told The Atlantic. “And this is without mentioning that all nature in a radius almost the size of Germany is dead from severe air pollution. I already knew that the people of Norilsk loved their hometown, but I didn't expect them to so openly contradict medical findings.”

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