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Winter’s watch

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The quiet exuberance of wintering alone on an empty island off New England

Depending on your disposition, spending a winter alone on an island in New England caring for an empty hotel may sound like a nightmare – perhaps one of the Stephen King variety – or a dream come true. For Alexandra de Steiguer, it’s a wondrous reality that she lives out each year at the Oceanic Hotel on the 43-acre Star Island, 10 km off the New Hampshire coast. Serving as the island’s off-season caretaker, the musician and photographer thrives in the solitude, quiet and peace that the unique job affords her. Moving through her duties with care and finding endless inspiration for her art, she observes an intricate beauty in ‘the great waiting of winter’.

The short documentary Winter’s Watch (2017) follows de Steiguer on her 19th winter on the island as she reflects on life during the hotel’s dark, cold and often stormy off-months. With sweeping still shots and a placid pace, the US director Brian Bolster expresses a keen interest in both this picturesque corner of the world and the solace it affords the island’s caretaker. Like de Steiguer’s dramatic photos, which make appearances throughout, Bolster’s lens draws out the desolate chill and sublime beauty in the choppy waves, leafless trees, overcast skies and largely uninhabited human structures that comprise the landscape.

Although de Steiguer loves her months spent alone, her excitement in returning each year isn’t driven by a desire to cut herself off from the world, but by a yearning to connect to it in a deeper way. In the crossroads of death and rebirth that characterise the winters on the island, she feels part of the web of life in a way she can’t replicate elsewhere. In the structures that dot the landscape, and especially the main hotel building, she finds comfort in knowing that people’s lives have passed through this space, and will continue to do so. With each passing year, she feels a deepened attachment to this land, and her place on it. Capturing her there, alone and in her element, Bolster crafts a stunning tribute to the idiosyncratic ways people find beauty and serenity.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director: Brian Bolster

10 August 2022