An aerial view of the North Pole region.

An aerial view of the North Pole region. The film "Exposure" chronicles an all-women journey to the North Pole. (Dreamstime/TNS)

CHICAGO — There was a recent memorial service for the pioneering broadcaster, bestselling author and filmmaker Jeannie Morris, who died in December 2020. She was 85 and the gathering on Oct. 3 was understandably jam-packed at the J. Parker, the restaurant and bar atop the Lincoln Hotel, near the high rise in which Morris spent some of her final years.

Her former husband is Chicago Bears great Johnny Morris, and their grown children are Dan, Debbie, Tim and Holly. More than a few of those in attendance knew what great pride Jeannie took in those children, especially Holly Morris, who began her career as a writer before expanding into filmmaking. She and Jeannie produced an ambitious PBS series called “Adventure Divas” in 2000, when I wrote of it: “One part TV travel show and one part website, it aims to ‘to unite adventure travel and everyday heroines ... to explore intriguing cultures and extraordinary women.’

Holly Morris has since made a life in Brooklyn, New York, as an author, public speaker (check out her TED talk) and an independent filmmaker.

Her latest is “Exposure,” which will be presented Saturday as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. It is an intimate and intense film, which follows 11 women from various places across the planet — Norway, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, Oman, England and elsewhere — as they band together to take a long and arduous walk.

This trek, covering 100 kilometers, took place in April 2018 and took this group across ice and water from a place called Camp Barneo, a temporary Russian outpost one of the northernmost inhabited places on Earth, to the North Pole.

Morris began filming in 2016, capturing the training that these women needed before undertaking their journey, a regime that included dragging tires through the streets of their hometowns.

The leader of the group was Felicity Aston, a lively and experienced polar explorer, who, not incidentally, gave birth to a child during the training. She is the one who conceived of this trip and, through Facebook, recruited applicants for what she called the Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition. She announced, “No experience necessary but passion, enthusiasm, and willingness to work hard are essential.”

Some 1,000 women got in touch and from those Aston chose the team. Her hopeful notion was that the journey might foster a greater understanding between those of different cultures and prove an empowering experience. It also aimed to provide a vivid and up-close example of the effects of climate change.

Morris and her crew (cinematographers Ingeborg Jakobsen from Norway and American Kathryn Barrows) do not give us full cinematic profiles of all the participants. Rather the film focuses on a few who are most lively and, at time, emotional, including, compellingly, an Omani rock climber named Anisa Al Raissi, who is laser focused on becoming the first person from her nation to reach the pole; Misba Khan, a Brit of Pakistani descent from Manchester who is an expressive personality; and Mariam Hamidaddin from Saudi Arabia, who suffers frostbite (not at all pleasant to see) and had to be rescued and helicoptered back to civilization.

The team does not encounter any polar bears, but it does face temperatures of as low as -40, exhaustion, a helicopter crash, snow trails turned to water, and 24-hours-a-day daylight. Their desolation is heightened by use of footage shot from drones.

It is something of a wonder how Morris and her crew accomplished this, given that on skis they pulled sleds of equipment in addition to food and supplies. But they have done so marvelously.

This is not the first time Morris has visited an inhospitable place. Her “The Babushkas of Chernobyl,” which had its local premiere in 2016, was about the people who remain in that Russian town where, in April 1986, a nuclear power plant exploded, unleashing 400 times as much radiation as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was the most disastrous single nuclear event in history. Surviving residents were evacuated and most never returned to what was designated an “Exclusion Zone,” fenced off by barbed wire and patrolled by guards.

But some did come back, some 1,000 of them, mostly women. Morris pointed her attention and cameras these babushkas (Russian for “grandmothers”). As I wrote reviewing the film, they were a “tough bunch. But they are not remote. They have grown old but not bitter — farming the land, growing their own food, tending to chickens and pigs and having a drink now and then.

“Says one of them: ‘Radiation doesn’t scare me. Starvation does’.”

“Exposure” is a success, not only for the women but for the filmmakers. No dogs. No snowmobiles. No support. No men. It is a triumph for all involved, a delight joy for viewers, a chilling revelation.

As the film informs us at its conclusion, due to deteriorating conditions, this might have been the last ever over-ice expedition to the top of the world. If so, it is an essential cinematic document.

Long ago, Jeannie Morris posted a quotation on the wall of the family home. Holly still remembers. It said, “Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.”

“Exposure” is dedicated to the memory of Jeannie Morris.

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“Exposure” screens 5 p.m. Oct. 16 at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St.; www.chicagofilmfestival.com

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