The Snowman

In 1978 Jimmy Graham, a 34, happily married and the father of 2 scored his dream job with Operation Deepfreeze and the New Zealand Antarctic Research Program – training NASA astronauts in survival skills in Antarctica. He left in December of that year. Three months later he arrived back agitated and paranoid. He said that he had been out on a snowcat and had stumbled onto an illegal toxic/nuclear dump and that the CIA had given him a chemical lobotomy. Jimmy rapidly descended into schizophrenia. His behaviour became so frightening that his wife Frances finally took off to Australia with the two children Sean and Juliet leaving Jimmy in the care of his elderly father. Despite the bizarre nature of his tale – his family believed that something had happened in that frozen continent. The man they loved went away sane and came back permanently fractured – as his daughter Juliet says ‘his mind was a blizzard’.

Jimmy now lives a relatively marginal life in an Australian country town. He has little contact with his family for almost 3 decades. Juliet in her mid 30s lives in Sydney and has two children. Juliet’s whole life has been dictated by the unnerving and precarious state that comes with having a mentally ill parent. Her eldest daughter Luca, is now the same age Juliet was when Jimmy left for Antarctica. Juliet wants her father back, she wants her kids to know their grandfather and she wants to know what happened that summer in Antarctica. While it is possible that Jimmy just went crazy there are multiple elements that corroborate the veracity of his tale. Operation Deep Freeze not only existed, it still operates today as the support operation for US Bases in Antarctica. The CIA has been exposed over and over again as having conducted illegal drug experiments, illegal interrogations and been involved in covert operations for the last 50 years. There is no question that the New Zealand Antarctic Program employed Jimmy during late 1978 and early 1979. If he just had a breakdown due to the pressures and isolation where was the NZ government’s duty of care? What really happened? Is the truth out there? Can descent into mental illness ever be mapped and explained? Is it just an irredeemable tragedy from which there is no possible hope? Juliet has begun the first tentative forays to re-establish her fragile relationship with her father and she and her family have almost 30 years of bewilderment to contend with. While Jimmy clearly operates on the outer edges of normality he is also a man of great charm and functionality – a man whose warmth has enabled him to receive a great deal of ad hoc support from the community.

Will Juliet be able to reach this fragmented man who clearly has a longing to reconnect with his family? The starting point is to ask what if Jimmy’s version of events is true. This film is a record of that investigation and that emotional journey into the past. It will take us to the backblocks of NSW, New Zealand, Antarctica, Scotland and the United States. We will meet NZ Antarctic program co-workers, his wife, his son, his climbing friends, the members of the 70s communes the family lived in NZ and Australia, the people behind operation Deepfreeze, the CIA, NASA, CIA experts, mental health carers and conspiracy experts. Juliet’s quest will take her across the world and like explorers Scott and Mawson she too will venture into an unknown continent as she travels into the uncharted frozen centre of her father’s mind and her family’s memory.